Jim Cunningham – 2016 Parliamentary Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The below Parliamentary question was asked by Jim Cunningham on 2016-04-27.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what recent assessment her Department has made of the effects on wider biodiversity of commonly used pesticides; and if she will make a statement.

George Eustice

Strict regulation is in place to reduce the risk of environmental damage by pesticides. A pesticide may only be placed on the market if and when the product has been authorised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Following a thorough risk assessment, HSE imposes conditions on the way pesticides are used, to ensure there is no harm to human health and no unacceptable effect on the environment. Pesticides that pose unacceptable risks are not authorised.

Assessments by Defra and others identify three types of impacts on biodiversity:

  • General impacts of past agricultural intensification. The 2011 UK National Ecosystem Assessment identified significant biodiversity loss over the last 50 years, with pollution and land use change on farmland as major drivers. Land use change includes the loss of flower-rich habitat, changes to cropping types and timings, drainage, hedge management, and pesticide use. It is not simple to disentangle these impacts;

  • Direct impacts on non-target organisms, including insects and aquatic species. For example, Defra-commissioned research on the status of UK pollinators identified some correlative evidence of reduced species richness at the landscape-scale associated with more intensive use of pesticides, but concluded that further research on direct empirical evidence of field-scale impacts was required. Further research is ongoing; and,

  • There is evidence on indirect impacts of pesticides on species such as birds or bats that feed on invertebrates or plants. This is an area of active research in the UK, Europe and North America, with population impacts recorded for some species such as grey partridge.