Press release, Brussels, 1.08.2013 - It has been announced that Dr. Helen Thompson, the UK government’s senior Bee Scientist at the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) is to join Syngenta, a leading manufacturer of insecticides, on 1st of Septemberi. The fact that the UK’s leading bee-scientist and ‘bees and pesticides risk assessor’, can simply ‘jump ship’ to join the staff of Syngenta, which she was supposedly ‘regulating’ reveals a massive ‘conflict of interest’. This will lead many to conclude that: “the UK has no effective pesticide-regulation”; the convergence of interests between ‘bee-health-regulators’ and ‘pesticide-manufacturer’ makes ‘regulator’ and ‘regulated’ indistinguishable from each other.
As an eco-toxicologist, Dr. Thompson led the Environmental Risk Team at the UK’s FERA. She has produced many publications, some of them for industry-players like Syngentaii ; she also represented the UK as FERA’s ‘bee expert’, at meetings of EFSA and other bodies. She led a study into the toxic impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bumblebees, which was widely criticized as disastrous and flawediii. As former Secretary and current Chairman of the ICPPRiv Bee Protection Group, Helen Thompson’s reported views could well have been scripted by the pesticide industry: Her publicationsv dismissed and discounted peer-reviewed Science studiesvi which confirmed the disastrous impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees. She contributed to reportsvii, which minimize and divert attention away from linked issues of global bee-deaths and pesticides. She has spoken publicly, in press and media, to minimize and dismiss concerns about bee deaths and pesticides, most famously on the UK’s Channel Four television broadcast in 2011viii.
The FERA advised the UK government to oppose the European ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. This was in complete opposition to the demands of British civil society and the unanimous recommendations of the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committeeix, which fully endorsed the EU’s proposed ban on neonicotinoid insecticides.
This case of ‘jumping ship’ to work for the pesticide industry, echoes that of French civil servant Anne Alix, a pesticide-risk-assessor, who served on many international working groups on honey bees, (ICPBR, EPPO, OECD and the EFSA) often in senior posts. Dr. Alix left the French Ministry of Agriculture in 2011 to join the pesticide company Dow AgroSciences. Dr Alix collaborated closely with Dr Helen Thompson in these pro-pesticide activities.
A FERA spokeswoman said “there is no conflict of interest” in Helen Thompson leaving her Regulator post to join pesticide manufacturer Syngenta. But how can anyone trust a ‘so-called’ bee-scientist who was paid to advise pesticide manufacturers, at the same time as she was supposedly giving neutral, unbiased advice to UK policy makers, on bee health and pesticide risk assessment?
For the European Beekeeping Coordination, such biased misinformation is intended to ‘muddy the waters’ and prevent politicians making clear decisions on the controversial topic of pesticides and bee-deaths. They serve the interests of the pesticide industry rather than to foster bee-protection.
The European Beekeeping Coordination urges the European authorities and Member States to outlaw these suspicious career-moves between ‘Pesticide Regulation Agency’ and Pesticide Manufacturer. Public authorities must only employ truly independent scientists who can furnish them with independent, unbiased information. Measures should also be taken to control aggressive pesticide industry lobbying against public institutions and regulators.
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iv - ICPPR International Committee of Plant Pollinator Relationship, former ICPBR International Committee of Plant Bee Relationship. The ICPPR Bee Protection Group is a group which supposedly focuses on the methodology used to determine whether pesticides are safe for bees and other pollinators. The group has been widely condemned for its glaring conflicts of interest, since the major pesticide manufacturers dominate this group.
v - Thompson H and Maus C (2007) The relevance of sublethal effects in honey bee testing for pesticide risk assessment. Pest Management Science. DOI: 10.1002/ps.1458