Research blaming pesticides for the decline in honeybees has been called into question by a leaked note suggesting that scientists had decided in advance to seek evidence supporting a ban on the chemicals.
The private note records a discussion in 2010 between four scientists about how to persuade regulators to ban neonicotinoid pesticides.
The EU imposed a temporary ban last year after the European Food Safety Authority identified risks to bees. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs opposed the ban, saying that there was not enough evidence of harm to bees.
Many farmers have blamed the ban for high levels of damage to this winter’s oilseed rape crop from flea beetle.
The leaked note says that the scientists agreed to select authors to produce four papers and co-ordinate their publication to “obtain the necessary policy change, to have these pesticides banned”.
A paper by a “carefully selected first author” would set out the impact of the pesticides on insects and birds “as convincingly as possible”. A second “policy forum” paper would draw on the first to call for a ban.
The note, which records that the meeting took place in Switzerland on June 14, 2010, says: “If we are successful in getting these two papers published, there will be enormous impact, and a campaign led by WWF etc. It will be much harder for politicians to ignore a research paper and a policy forum paper in [a major scientific journal].”