HTA Full Position Statement on Neonicotinoids, May 2017

In light of recent media interest in this subject, we would like to explain our position. We have also added some summary points in the annex after the numbered text, which could be useful for staff to field customer questions.

1.1 There are around 250 bee species in the UK, and in addition to their contribution of £16 million to honey producers, they make an invaluable contribution to our £100 billion food industry. Peer-reviewed scientific evidence suggests that the current decline in bee numbers is due to several factors: parasites such as the varroa mite; habitat loss; fungal and viral diseases.

1.2 Since the 1990s, there has been ongoing debate about the effect of the neonicotinoids group of plant protection products on bees. The UK Government maintains stringent controls and processes over the approval and use of these products. Their use in ornamental plant production accounts for 0.03% of their total use in UK agriculture and horticulture, according to the last Government data survey carried out in 2009.

1.3 Gardens and flowering garden plants play a crucial role in supporting bees and other pollinating insects. There are fewer and fewer flowers available in the countryside for pollinators, and therefore flowering plants in our gardens represent a vital food source. The industry works closely with the Government and other stakeholders on promoting and delivering the National Pollinator Strategy.

1.4 A limited number of neonicotinoids are used by growers to produce pest-free plants. Out of the nine products classed as neonicotinoids, there are only two in regular use in ornamental horticulture (Thiacloprid and Acetamaprid), with a third used sparingly for vine weevil control. These products were not part of the EU restrictions that were implemented on three neonicotinoid active ingredients in 2013. The scientific evidence recognised at regulatory body and government level does not confirm that these neonicotinoids cause direct harm to bees, when used as directed by the manufacturer.

1.5 These products are used when natural methods are deemed to be ineffective to meet pest and disease control needs. Research is ongoing into alternative methods, but growers currently face a very limited range of controls for year-round vine weevil control. Ornamental plant production falls within the official ‘Minor Uses’ category because the amount of products applied represents a minor use compared to other crops.

1.6 The EU and UK Government have dictated which neonicotinoids are allowed and how they can be used, and ornamentals growers have reacted immediately and voluntarily to comply with any changes as they have been introduced. The industry works closely with government bodies and other stakeholders to uphold high standards of environmental management and the use of plant protection products.

1.7 A recent report featured in the press set out to establish the presence and levels of a range of plant protection products found in and on ornamental plants for sale through garden centres. We take the report seriously and will analyse the findings when the full paper is published. If necessary we will modify our advice to growers accordingly, bearing in mind the limited range of plant protection products that ‘minor uses’ crops have available to them.

1.8 As we expected, a range of products were found at low levels, confirming that growers abide by the EU regulations, including the edible crop harvest interval for a non-edible plant.

It should be pointed out that the testing was carried out 12 months ago and several of the substances found are no longer approved or available to growers. It also appears to have been carried out in a very restricted area of the country. Clothianidin has no approval, nor is it likely to have been used on ornamentals. It is only available as a cereal seed dressing and not as a foliar spray or substrate drench.

1.9 The presence of this active substance on an ornamental plant would suggest that contamination has occurred, either in the sampling process or by some bird or insect vector during the sale or testing retention period. Chlorpyrifos is most likely to have been used as a substrate drench against Vine Weevil larva, and it is no longer approved or available. Both neonicotinoids thiamethoxam and imidacloprid have had approvals in the past, which might explain their presence. No age of the plants tested has been given, however, nor whether they were UK-grown or imported, and we look forward to reading about this in more detail.

 

Annex: Summary points to aid staff with any questions which may come from customers

  • Gardens and flowering garden plants play a crucial role in supporting bees and other pollinating insects;
  • There are really only two neonicotinoids which are currently used widely in UK ornamental plant production (Thiacloprid and Acetamaprid), and a third which is used sparingly as the only current year-round effective treatment to control vine weevil;
  • In general, growers use chemicals as a last resort, to ensure pest-free plants, but they currently have a very limited choice in controlling some pests such as vine weevil;
  • The industry works closely with the Government and other stakeholders on promoting and delivering the National Pollinator Strategy;
  • The industry also works closely with government bodies and other stakeholders to uphold high standards of environmental management and the responsible use of plant protection products;
  • Traces of these products found in plants tested recently were at low levels, confirming that growers follow strict regulatory guidelines in their use, including the edible crop harvest interval for a non-edible plant. Research is ongoing into alternative treatments to chemicals;
  • There is no danger to human health from the responsible use of neonicotinoids on plants, according to label instructions;
  • Customers should always only use plant protection products according to label instructions.

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