The health of our bees and pollinators is too precious to be bargained with. Bees are responsible for pollinating 70% of the fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds we eat. Without bees, we could wave goodbye to carrots, grapes, lemons, apples, broccoli, brazil nuts and onions. And if we start losing these key foods, it could have a catastrophic impact on our future food security.
The decline of bee species in recent years is an economic and environmental catastrophe. In the UK, 13 bee species are extinct, and now one in ten of Europe’s wild bee species are under threat. That is why the decision by the Conservative government to lift the ban on bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides is so damaging.
There must not be a return to business as usual when we emerge from the pandemic. We must ensure that every step we take towards recovery from the virus, to secure our economy and rebuild our country, is a step towards protecting our environment.
We can’t allow building back better and a green industrial revolution to become soundbites hijacked by Boris Johnson. They must represent a renewed drive to tread lighter on our planet, protect vulnerable habitats and species, and recognise that what follows from the virus must be better than what came before.
Under previous leadership, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was at the heart of government – but it’s fallen to a dreary managerialism recently. George Eustice was a decent junior minister, but he lacks the visionary leadership that the Secretary of State for the Environment needs.
Labour backs our farmers. There is no denying that sugar beet farmers are experiencing a tough time with crop blight, but lifting the ban on bee-killing pesticides is not the answer. Better support for the sector, accelerating introduction of blight-resistant crops and allowances for crop loss to be included in next year’s sugar contracts are all required.
Labour will be bringing this to a vote in the House of Commons next Tuesday as an amendment to the environment bill. In that vote, Tory MPs will have a choice to back the use of bee-killing chemicals or vote with Labour in upholding the ban and saving our bees. Our job as a movement is to make every vote count and protect every bee and pollinator.
When that moment comes, we need your help. I need you to be the voice of our natural world in your local party, in the letters page of your local paper, on Facebook and Instagram, in workplaces and in your family. But most of all, Labour needs you to be part of the effort to pressure the Tories into voting with us against lifting this ban.
The Tories have put a lot of effort into trying to convince the public they care about environment. I would argue that killing bees is the opposite of that. I believe there are Tories who find this decision equally as abhorrent as you and I do. Our job is to encourage them to show it in the vote.
This is the first major rollback since we left the Brexit transition period – but it will not be the last, I fear, and it is why we must make a stand and why we must win. Without bees, our entire ecosystem will fall. That is why bee health is non-negotiable. If we permit bans to be lifted when they become inconvenient, we will never truly address the climate crisis because our resolve will be temporary and tempered. In this debate, Labour will stand up for our bees, stand up for the environment and stand up for our future.