The British Beekeepers' Association has announced plans to end its controversial practice of endorsing pesticides in return for cash from leading chemical manufacturers.
The endorsement of four products as 'bee-friendly' in return for £17,500 a year caused outrage among many beekeepers because one of the companies, Bayer Crop Science, makes pesticides that are widely implicated in the deaths of honeybees worldwide.
But the BBKA denies that it has bowed to pressure from members who have been increasingly critical of the its stance. Bayer's clothianidin was identified as causing the death of two-thirds of honeybees in southern Germany in 2008.
In a statement sent out to the secretaries of local beekeeping associations across the UK, the BBKA's president, Martin Smith, said: 'Following discussion with the companies involved, the BBKA trustees have decided that endorsement and related product-specific payments will cease as soon as practically possible.'
He added: 'The four products subject to BBKA endorsement are of declining commercial importance and the development of new classes of pesticides and application techniques means that the relationship with the plant-protection industry should be reviewed.'
Beekeeper Graham White, who resigned from the BBKA more than two years ago in protest at what he called a 'secret deal done with the pesticide manufacturers whose products are lethal to bees', welcomed today's decision.
'It's great news, but it's too little, too late,' he said. 'They should have been showing solidarity with beekeepers in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia when pesticides were banned there after being implicated in bee deaths, instead of selling their logo to the manufacturers.'
Smith defended its position then as one of 'constructive engagement' to ensure pesticides were properly applied as per the instructions on the label to minimise damage to honeybees.
The BBKA's position has polarised the 45,000-strong beekeeping community, but the majority of BBKA members upheld its policy at its annual delegate meeting earlier this year and in 2009.
At the next meeting in January, delegates will be asked to note today's decision 'with respect to the cessation of BBKA endorsement of certain pesticides'.
But the organisation has not ruled out accepting funds in the future from pesticide companies. 'The trustees may wish to invite companies to exhibit at the BBKA's spring convention or make a contribution to the BBKA research fund,' said Smith.
'It is time to broaden the range of engagement with the crop-protection industry beyond the narrow focus of endorsing certain products; rather to contribute more directly to the development of new regulatory criteria for pesticide approval and to further support the industry in the general move to improve countryside stewardship,' he added.
White says all ties to the pesticide industry should be immediately severed. 'All of those who created and directed this policy of pesticide endorsement must be thrown out of the BBKA and replaced by real beekeepers. The BBKA is not fit for purpose and will never recover its moral integrity until it is reconstituted as a pure beekeeping organisation that is willing to campaign against all use of systemic pesticides on British farms.'
This article is reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Environment Network
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