Supermarket HelpsTo Save Bee Population

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, and more recently leading garden centres removed products that contain the chemicals.

The approach will be rolled out to crops such as oil seed 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 a precautionary one which will remain in place until scientists could demonstrate whether the pesticides are harming populations of bees and other pollinating insects, many of which are in decline.

It will also be funding research at the University of Exeter into the effects of multiple pesticide use on pollinating insects.

Concerns have been raised that neonicotinoids, which target insect nervous systems, could have immediate and long term impacts on bee colony and 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 concluded there is a link, prompting the Government to warn against EU moves to ban the pesticides without sufficient evidence.

But 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 about the effects of the three chemicals.

And the company's director of quality and technical, David Croft, said:

"Given the concern about these pesticides and the need to support pollinators we believe this is a responsible precautionary step as part of a wider, holistic approach under our seven-point plan.

"The role of pollinating insects such as bees is crucial in sustaining agriculture in the long term, as part of a thriving ecosystem that will support food security, healthy diets and the wider agricultural economy.''

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

"There is mounting concern about the damaging impact these chemicals have on bees and other pollinators - we urge other stores to follow suit.

"Ministers can't ignore the mounting concern from scientists, businesses and the public - they must back EU proposals to restrict these insecticides later this month.

"But pesticides are not the only challenge facing British bees - the Government must introduce a bee action plan to tackle habitat loss and all the other threats they face,'' he said.

Vanessa Amaral-Rogers,  pesticides officer at wildlife charity Buglife, said:

"This is a huge step in the right direction, leading the way for other retailers to follow.

"By voicing their concern for pollinators they are adding pressure and weight to the campaign for a ban on the use of neonicotinoids.''