The Soil Association has clashed with a chemical firm after calling on the government to ban sprays it claims are killing off honey and bumble bees.

Bee populations are in decline (credit: Wikimedia)

Campaigners told the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee last month that neonicotinoids, an ingredient in some garden and farm sprays, have a “damaging impact” on beneficial insects.

“There is strong evidence that neonicotinoids are responsible for the declining number of bees and pollinators,” said Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett.

“Neonicotinoids were first used in agriculture in the mid-1990s and this was the time when mass bee disappearances started. The evidence against these chemicals is strong enough that they have been banned or suspended in France, Germany and Italy but not yet in the UK,” Peter said.

The accusations prompted a backlash from Bayer Garden, maker of Provado Ultimate Bug Killer, which contains thiacloprid (a neonicotinoid).

“As an organisation that seems dedicated to promoting organic farming by demonising any other method of producing the food, feed and fibre we need, we should not be surprised that the Soil Association is against the use of pesticides,” Bayer’s Dr Julian Little told AG.

He argued that the Soil Association “failed to mention that despite widespread restrictions in neonicotinoid use in France for over 10 years, there has been zero improvement in bee health”.

Julian explained: “It remains the same, or worse, than in the UK. Likewise, Australia has the healthiest bees on the planet despite widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

“Luckily for beekeepers there, the Varroa mite, the bane of a bee’s existence, has not yet arrived. Deal with bee pests and you have healthy bees; remove neonicotinoids and you see no improvement in bee heath. Blaming the nearest chemical is not the answer.”