Buzzing between industry and government

On 1 September Dr Helen Thompson will start a new job. Taking a position at Syngenta, she will be leaving her current role as a scientist in the UK Government’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera). The move has sparked ‘revolving door’ concerns – particualry given the portfolio of projects in which the researcher has recently been involved. 

Earlier this year Dr Thompson led an investigation into the effect of neonicotinoid insecticides on (declining) bee populations.

It was study frequently cited by UK ministers arguing against a proposed EU-wide ban on neonicotinoids, and a study later said to be flawed.

The results flew in the face of a number of others investigations, including one by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) which identified a high risk to bees from three neonicitonoids – imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. It was this EFSA report which resulted in the EU Commission proposing a ban on their use.

During a (second) vote on the proposed ban in April 2013, 15 EU Member States voted in favour of the ban. The UK voted against.

Syngenta is one of the world’s biggest chemical companies, producing thiamethoxam to a global market. In 2002 a patent dispute over the neonicotinoid was settled with rival Bayer, with Syngenta reported to have paid $120 million to Bayer in exchange for worldwide rights to thiamethoxam. The recent recruitment has sparked reactions from civil society and politicians alike.

Paul de Zylva from Friends of the Earth UK said: “This is yet another example of the revolving door that exists between government and big business. The public must have confidence that the government is doing all it can to safeguard Britain’s threatened bees. The best way to do this by ensuring its national pollinator strategy tackles all the causes of bee decline – including pesticides.”

Elsewhere, MP Joan Wally chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) said the move will undermine the prinicipe of using “unbiased and disinterested scientific research” to inform Government policy.

Syngenta’s interests have a wide reach. Earlier this year, ARC2020 reported on their activity in the CAP reform. Find more here.

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