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Pesticides: Bees and Environment Protection

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN 109331, tabled on 21 January 2022

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what research his Department has commissioned on the impact of currently authorised pesticides on (a) bees and (b) the potential consequences for the environment.

Answered on

31 January 2022

The UK is a world leader in developing greener farming practises and upholds the highest standards of environmental and health protection. Our first priority is to ensure pesticides have no unacceptable effects on the environment and no harmful effects on human health.

The authorisation of pesticide products, including those containing neonicotinoid active substances, is based on a detailed and robust scientific risk assessment. This is carried out by the regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), using studies and information provided by the applicant to address the extensive data requirements. The regulatory process is constantly updated so that it advances with scientific knowledge, and pesticides are reviewed regularly to ensure that they meet the latest standards. HSE’s assessment includes consideration of what happens to a pesticide after it is applied. This includes determining whether it breaks down, its persistence and mobility in soil and water, as well as effects on a range of non-target organisms.

Linking pesticide usage directly to changes in both managed and wild pollinator populations remains challenging because of the range of pressures which affect pollinators, such as habitat loss and climate change, in addition to the complexities of assessing and attributing pesticide usage and risk to impacts.

However, research suggests that the EU moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid (thiamethoxam, clothianidin, imidacloprid) seed treatments on mass-flowering crops in 2013 was effective at reducing exposure of honeybees to these pesticides over the subsequent years.

We have funded research into the exposure of honeybees to pesticides, both over time and at national scale, through chemical analysis of pesticide residues found in honey samples. Using genetic techniques, such as DNA metabarcoding, this research can assess the plants foraged by exposed bees and highlight common pesticide exposure routes for this key pollinator species. We expect the results of this work to be published in the coming months.

We are also funding research exploring how we could further develop our monitoring to better understand the effects, and the impacts, of pesticides on pollinators, such as expanding residue assessments to include wild pollinator species of bumblebees and solitary bees.

Furthermore, Defra is developing a Pesticide Load Indicator which takes account of both the chemical properties of pesticides used and the weight applied. This uses pesticide usage data, ecotoxicity and environmental data to better understand how the pressure from pesticides on the environment, including bees, has changed over time. Much of this research will be published this year.