Pesticides blamed for killing bees have been removed from the shelves of Britain’s biggest gardening chains, prompting calls for similar chemicals widely-used on farms to be banned completely.
After studying the evidence, Homebase, B&Q and Wickes took the decision to remove two popular bug killers containing neonicotinoids. Campaigners, who claim that the pesticides are responsible for the recent collapse in bee numbers, welcomed the move but Lord Peter Melchett, Policy Director at the Soil Association, questioned why other garden centres are allowed to carry on selling products containing neonicotinoids.
He also pointed out that neonicotinoids are used on three quarters of the oilseed rape crop in Britain, as well as wheat and barley.
“A recent EFSA (European Food Safety Authority )report labels neonicotinoids as an ‘unacceptable’ danger to bees, which we think means they should not be on sale to the general public at all,” he said.
“A recent report commissioned by the pesticide industry shows that neonicotinoids are now very widely used in UK agriculture, and that must stop.”
Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said there should be a ban on the three kinds of neonicotinoids - clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam - identified by the EFSA as a possible risk to bees.
“We’re delighted stores are withdrawing these pesticides. Other retailers must follow suit and take action to protect our bees,” he said.
“The spotlight now falls on the UK Government. Ministers must help safeguard our bees by immediately suspending the three pesticides identified by European food safety scientists - and ensuring farmers have safe alternatives.
“Declining bee numbers are a real threat to food production.”
However Dr Chris Hartfield, National Farmers Union, lead on bee health, said there is no evidence neonicotinoids are responsible for a decline in bees.
He pointed out that farmers are more likely to use chemical correctly to protect bees, for example by avoiding floweing crops, than amateur gardeners.
The UK govermnent’s advisory committee on pesticides is currently examining new evidence of harm to bees from the use of certain commonly used insecticides, with a view to recommending possible changes to the current regulatory regime governing their use.
B&Q said it was removing the one product on its shelves that contains one of these neonicotinoids: Bayer’s lawn grub killer.
“We have been watching the debate that is developing about the use of pesticides, in particular neonicotinoids, and their potential effect on the UK bee population. Whilst we believe that the vast majority of pesticides are not injurious to bees when used in accordance with the instructions, we have some concerns about the potential for harm to be caused by the unintentional misuse of products containing imidacloprid. In recent years, this active ingredient has been phased out of many retail products, and we currently sell only one garden insecticide that uses this active. As a result of our assessment, we have decided to withdraw it from sale and are investigating alternative treatments to meet customer needs,” said a spokesman.
Wickes has also decided to remove a product containing the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam, Westland Plant Rescue bug Killer, later this year.
“Wickes is not the licence holder and the product is not sold under Wickes own branding. The packaging includes a warning about its danger to bees and provides some guidance on how to protect bees when using the product. Wickes reviewed this product recently, prior to the publication of the EFSA report, and took the decision to replace it with an alternative which does not contain thiamethoxam,” said a spokesman.
Homebase has also removed lawn grub killer.
“Homebase is aware of the current interest in the possible effect of neonicotinoids on the population of honeybees, bumble bees and other pollinating insects.
“All pesticides stocked by Homebase fully comply with EU legislation.
Neonicotinoids are not present in any Homebase branded insecticide. As a precautionary measure Homebase has removed from sale the Bayer Lawn Grub Killer which contains imidacloprid.
“We will continue to be guided by Defra and will take any responsible action with regard to range as directed.”
A Defra spokesman said: “Commercial decisions are a matter for individual businesses. We have carried out extensive research into the impact of neonicotinoids on bees and are waiting for the imminent results of field studies carried out by Fera. This research will be examined by the independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides and their advice on the evidence will be considered by Ministers. If it is concluded that restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids are necessary, they will be brought in.”
The Telegraph, 29 January 2013