Waitrose calls halt to pesticides linked to threat to bee population

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Waitrose is asking fruit, vegetable and flower suppliers to avoid using pesticides linked with bee declines.

Farmers supplying the supermarket chain are to stop using three “neonicotinoid” pesticides on products destined for its stores by the end of 2014 as part of a “seven-point plan” by the company to help pollinating insects.

The move makes Waitrose the latest retailer to take action on pesticides, after the Co-operative suspended its use on its farms several years ago. More recently leading garden centres removed products that contain the chemicals.

The approach will be rolled out to crops such as oilseed rape, on which the pesticides are commonly used, on the Waitrose Farm at Leckford, Hampshire, and as soon as practicable to other areas of the arable sector that supply the supermarket.

Waitrose said the measure was precautionary until scientists could show whether the pesticides are harming populations of bees and other pollinating insects, many of which are in decline. It will also fund research at the University of Exeter into the effects of multiple pesticide use on insects.

Concerns have been raised that neonicotinoids, which target insect nervous systems, could impact on bee colony survival and development as they damage the insects’ ability to forage for food.

The problem has been highlighted in laboratory studies but field-based experiments have not shown a link, prompting the Government to warn against EU moves to ban the pesticides without sufficient evidence. MPs on the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee have urged a ban on their use as a precautionary measure.

Waitrose managing director Mark Price said the decision to avoid their use was appropriate until conclusive evidence was put forward.

The move was supported by green groups, including Friends of the Earth whose head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton described it as “fantastic news”.