Harmful pesticides must be banned for good to save our bees
The health of our bees is non-negotiable. Bees and other pollinators are responsible for more than a third of the world's crops. Without them, it would cost £1.8 billion a year in the UK to pollinate our crops.
We would all be in huge trouble if our bees were to disappear. But that gets more and more possible every day.
In the UK, we have already lost around 13 species of bee since 1900, and another 35 are currently at risk of extinction. When something as precious as our bees are under threat, we need to do everything we can to help them.
That's why it's so bewildering that the government has decided to allow the use of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides to be sprayed all over crops this year.
Neonicotinoids are used to stop a disease that affects sugar beet crops known as virus yellows. They have been proven to harm bees, stopping them from flying, blocking their navigation and ultimately killing them.
Without bees, farmers would have to spend £1.8 billion pollinating their crops. That's money we simply can't afford
These bee-killing pesticides are banned in the EU, with the support of the UK. Former Environment Secretary Michael Gove even said at the time: "The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment... we cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk." How we miss those days of clarity from Defra.
Last year I led the campaign from the frontbench to make sure that ban stayed firmly in place to protect our bees. Over 22,000 people co-signed my letter to the Prime Minister supporting the ban, and the government backed down.
A year later, here we are again. My fellow West Country MP and Environment Secretary George Eustice has whispered that 2022 is the year we deepen the bee crisis, by relenting to the pesticide lobby and permitting the use of neonics. The government is ignoring its own scientific advice that seeks to protect bees. This must not stand.
I want these harmful pesticides banned for good. But if Ministers are to permit annual uses, I want to see a vote in Parliament every time this is being considered. Parliament should be allowed to scrutinise a decision as huge as this, that could seriously damage our natural environment.
If Ministers are so sure of their decision, they should come to the House of Commons and defend it, rather than bunkering down and slipping out the announcement hoping no one notices. If this is the right decision, then what are Ministers afraid of?
I always back British farmers - especially at a time when they're being undercut with unfair trade deal and being pushed out of the sector by having their payments cut. But killing our bees is not the solution.
Improved sugar contracts, compensation and accelerating blight resistant varieties offer a much better answer. And without bees, farmers would have to spend £1.8 billion pollinating their crops. That's money we simply can't afford.
We are in a climate and nature emergency. If we have any hope of tackling the crisis, we need to stay relentless in the campaign to save our bees.
Luke Pollard is the Labour MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport.
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