Transparent pesticide studies urged
MPs have raised concerns over Government plans to allow pesticide manufacturers to fund "critical" research examining the impact of their chemicals on bees.
As part of the Government's draft "national pollinator strategy", which aims to protect bees and other pollinating insects, research into the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides - which have been linked to declines in bees - would be funded by their manufacturers.
MPs on the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee called for the research to be transparent and subject to independent controls, or it would not inspire public confidence.
And they called for the Government to make clear it accepts the ban brought in by the European Union on three neonicotinoid pesticides on crops attractive to bees.
The Government opposed the ban, claiming there was not enough evidence that bees were harmed by the pesticides, but the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) concluded last year that the existing evidence was of enough concern to warrant a ban.
The MPs said the final national pollinator strategy, expected in the autumn, should be used by ministers to draw a line under the ban, and for the Government to make clear it will not seek to overturn it when the European Commission reviews it next year.
The EAC welcomed the planned national pollinator monitoring framework to provide a baseline of how bees and other pollinators are faring, as a starting point for action to help them.
But t he committee's chairwoman Joan Walley said: "When it comes to research on pesticides, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is content to let the manufacturers fund the work.
"This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the department responsible for it.
"If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step.
"Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full."
The report was backed by groups who have campaigned to help bees.
Marylyn Haines Evans, public affairs chairwoman of the National Federation of Women's Institutes, said: "It is really positive to see the national pollinator strategy come under some helpful scrutiny after so many calls to ensure a sustainable future for our pollinators.
"Whilst the draft strategy makes some definite progress towards protecting pollinators, the Government needs to ensure a far more joined-up approach to guarantee a stable way forward.
"Rigorous and transparent research will be a key aspect of identifying exactly what is happening to our bees, but as the Environmental Audit Committee rightly identifies, the strategy's heavy reliance on industry risks putting the needs of commerce ahead of the needs of bees.
"In the meantime, we already have a very good idea of what we need to do to protect our bees and we want to see more action from government to deliver these safeguards."
Friends of the Earth nature campaigner Sandra Bell said: "If the Government's action plan to protect Britain's pollinators is to have any credibility, it must back the ban on bee-harming insecticides and set out a clear strategy to reduce pesticide use.
"Tough measures are also needed to halt the continued loss of our precious wildflower meadows and to help all farmers play a full role in reversing bee decline.
"Thousands of people across the UK are already taking action to help our crucial bee populations - the Government must act too."