Tag Archive: Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs


Last-ditch lobbying to sway vote in Brussels to halt use of killer nerve agents

Beekeepers report higher loss rates In bee population

Bees are vital for pollination, and scientific studies have linked pesticides to huge losses in their numbers. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty

Europe is on the brink of a landmark ban on the world’s most widely used insecticides, which have increasingly been linked to serious declines in bee numbers. Despite intense secret lobbying by British ministers and chemical companies against the ban, revealed in documents obtained by the Observer, a vote in Brussels on Monday is expected to lead to the suspension of the nerve agents.

Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed on disease, loss of habitat and, increasingly, the near ubiquitous use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

The prospect of a ban has prompted a fierce behind-the-scenes campaign. In a letter released to the Observer under freedom of information rules, the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, told the chemicals company Syngenta last week that he was “extremely disappointed” by the European commission‘s proposed ban. He said that “the UK has been very active” in opposing it and “our efforts will continue and intensify in the coming days”.

Publicly, ministers have expressed concern for bees, with David Cameron saying: “If we do not look after our bee populations, very serious consequences will follow.”

The chemical companies, which make billions from the products, have also lobbied hard, with Syngenta even threatening to sue individual European Union officials involved in publishing a report that found the pesticides posed an unacceptable risk to bees, according to documents seen by the Observer. The report, from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), led the commission to propose a two-year ban on three neonicotinoids. “EFSA has provided a strong, substantive and scientific case for the suspension,” a commission spokesman said.

A series of high-profile scientific studies has linked neonicotinoids to huge losses in the number of queens produced and big increases in “disappeared” bees – those that fail to return from foraging trips. Pesticide manufacturers and UK ministers have argued that the science is inconclusive and that a ban would harm food production, but conservationists say harm stemming from dying pollinators is even greater.

“It’s a landmark vote,” said Joan Walley MP, chairwoman of parliament’s green watchdog, the environmental audit committee, whose recent report on pollinators condemned the government’s “extraordinary complacency”. Walley said: “You have to have scientific evidence, but you also have to have the precautionary principle – that’s the heart of this debate.”

A ban has been supported by petitions signed by millions of people and Paterson has received 80,000 emails, an influx that he described as a “cyber-attack“. “The impact of neonicotinoids on the massive demise of our bees is clear, yet Paterson seems unable to escape the haze of sloppy science and lobbying by powerful pesticide giants,” said Iain Keith of the campaign group Avaaz. “Seventy per cent of British people want these poisons banned. Paterson must reconsider or send the bees to chemical Armageddon.” Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth said a ban would be “a historic moment in the fight to save our bees”.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “As the proposal currently stands we could not support an outright ban. We have always been clear that a healthy bee population is our top priority, that’s why decisions need to be taken using the best possible scientific evidence and we want to work with the commission to achieve this. Any action taken must be proportionate and not have any unforeseen knock-on effects.”

“This plan is motivated by a quite understandable desire to save the beleaguered bee and concern about a serious decline in other important pollinator species,” said the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, “but it is based on a misreading of the currently available evidence.” He said the EC plan was a serious “mistake”.

Julian Little, a spokesman for Bayer Cropscience, said: “Call me an optimist, but I still believe the commission will see sense. There is so much field evidence to demonstrate safe use [and] an increasing number of member states who reject the apparent drive towards museum agriculture in the European Union.” However, Bulgaria is the only nation known to have changed its voting intention and it will reverse its opposition.

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Bee-harming pesticides banned in Europe

EU member states vote ushers in continent-wide suspension of neonicotinoid pesticides

A bee collects pollen from a sunflower in Utrecht

A bee collects pollen from a sunflower in Utrecht, the Netherlands. EU states have voted in favour of a proposal to restrict the use of pesticides linked to serious harm in bees. Photograph: Michael Kooren/Reuters

Europe will enforce the world’s first continent-wide ban on widely used insecticides alleged to cause serious harm to bees, after a European commission vote on Monday.

The suspension is a landmark victory for millions of environmental campaigners, backed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), concerned about a dramatic decline in the bee population. The vote also represents a serious setback for the chemical producers who make billions each year from the products and also UK ministers, who voted against the ban. Both had argued the ban would harm food production.

Although the vote by the 27 EU member states on whether to suspend the insect nerve agents was supported by 15 nations, but did not reach the required majority under voting rules. The hung vote hands the final decision to the European commission, which will implement the ban.

Tonio Borg, health and consumer commissioner, said: “Our proposal is based on a number of risks to bee health identified by the EFSA, [so] the European commission will go ahead with its plan in coming weeks.”

Friends of the Earth‘s head of campaigns, Andrew Pendleton, said: “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations. Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.”

The UK, which abstained in a previous vote, was heavily criticised for switching to a “no” vote on Monday.

Joan Walley MP, chair of parliament’s green watchdog, the environmental audit committee, whose investigation had backed a ban and accused ministers of “extraordinary complacency”, said the vote was a real step in the right direction, but added: “A full Commons debate where ministers can be held to account is more pressing than ever.”

Greenpeace‘s chief scientist, Doug Parr, said: “By not supporting the ban, environment secretary, Owen Paterson, has exposed the UK government as being in the pocket of big chemical companies and the industrial farming lobby.”

On Sunday, the Observer revealed the intense secret lobbying by Paterson and Syngenta.

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Earth Watch Report  –  Biological Hazards

 

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17.04.2013 Biological Hazard United Kingdom England, Great Witchingham [Norfolk] Damage level
Details

Biological Hazard in United Kingdom on Wednesday, 17 April, 2013 at 10:01 (10:01 AM) UTC.

Description
Animal health scientists are awaiting further tests after initial results came back negative for the H5 and H7 strains of avian influenza (AI) – both considered a potential threat to humans – at a Bernard Matthews farm. Officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) would not confirm where the tests had been carried out but said experts were called after a bird displayed respiratory problems. They warned poultry keepers to stay vigilant and report any concerns to the animal health agency or to a vet. A Defra spokeswoman said that both strains had the potential to be “highly pathogenic” but that tests had so far returned negative results. Meanwhile, activities at the plant have been restricted as a precaution while further tests are completed. A spokesperson for Bernard Matthews said: “We can confirm that some of our birds at one of our farms showed signs of ill health over the weekend. We felt it appropriate to report this to DEFRA. They have detected the presence of an avian influenza virus, but not the virulent H5 or H7 form. Some restrictions are in place as a precaution, but are expected to be lifted in the next few days.”
Biohazard name: Avian Flu (H5 and H7 excluded)
Biohazard level: 2/4 Medium
Biohazard desc.: Bacteria and viruses that cause only mild disease to humans, or are difficult to contract via aerosol in a lab setting, such as hepatitis A, B, and C, influenza A, Lyme disease, salmonella, mumps, measles, scrapie, dengue fever, and HIV. “Routine diagnostic work with clinical specimens can be done safely at Biosafety Level 2, using Biosafety Level 2 practices and procedures. Research work (including co-cultivation, virus replication studies, or manipulations involving concentrated virus) can be done in a BSL-2 (P2) facility, using BSL-3 practices and procedures. Virus production activities, including virus concentrations, require a BSL-3 (P3) facility and use of BSL-3 practices and procedures”, see Recommended Biosafety Levels for Infectious Agents.
Symptoms:
Status: suspected