Peter Melchett (The Soil Association): There is a terrible sense of history repeating itself

Your shocking revelations about the impact of neonicotinoids on pollinating insects ("Poisoned spring", 20 January) confirms the worst fears of scientists, conservationists and organic farmers. There is a terrible sense of history repeating itself, as government scientists, politicians and chemical companies deny the impact of this new set of chemicals, just as they did with DDT in the 1960s. Back then it took the disappearance of many of our birds of prey before the problem was recognised. It looks as if the same is going to happen to bumblebees and honey bees.

Insect pollinators are of vital importance to organic farmers. The Soil Association and organic researchers in the USA have real concerns about all systemic pesticides, this new breed of chemical weapon, present in every part of a plant, throughout its growth. Systemic insecticides give repeated, often tiny doses of chemical to insects – and this repeated, long-term exposure is not adequately covered by pesticide safety testing.

Along with many other organisations, the Soil Association raised these concerns at a bee summit at 10 Downing Street, called by Sarah Brown when Gordon was Prime Minister. The last government refused to take precautionary action. Bees are still dying. If David Cameron wants to have "the greenest government ever" he needs to tell his agriculture ministers to act now. If many other European countries can do so, so can we.

Peter Melchett
Policy Director, The Soil Association, Bristol

Letter to the Editor of the Independent Newspaper, 24.01.2011