Ministers allow banned bee-killing pesticide to be used for third year running

One teaspoon of thiamethoxam could kill over a billion bees, says expert  (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
One teaspoon of thiamethoxam could kill over a billion bees, says expert (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Sugar beet farmers will be allowed to use a banned bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticide this year – for the third year in a row – the government has decided.

Farming minister Mark Spencer made the decision to allow use of thiamethoxam in England under an emergency exemption, just days after the EU outlawed such action.

A single teaspoon of thiamethoxam, which is banned in both the UK and the EU, is toxic enough to kill 1.25 billion bees, according to Professor Dave Goulson, one of the UK’s leading insect experts.

 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Wildlife chiefs fear the decision could devastate already-struggling bee populations, and that the ban on the pesticide could be overturned amid a bonfire of regulations protecting nature under the Retained EU Law Bill.

The government has sparked angry backlashes from environmentalists when it has previously given the go-ahead to the pesticide.

The deadly neonicotinoid, known as a “neonic”, is used to protect sugar beet crops from yellows virus carried by aphids.

Ministers say that in 2020 when no neonicotinoids were used, a quarter of the national sugar beet crop, worth £67m, was lost.

Just four days earlier, the Court of Justice of the EU said providing emergency derogations for seeds treated with a neonicotinoid that is banned was not in line with EU law.

The UK government argued at the UN Cop15 biodiversity talks for a global cut in pesticide use.

UK guidance states that emergency exemptions should not be granted more than once.

The Pesticide Collaboration, a coalition of health, environmental, farming and consumer groups, academics and trade unions, said the decision to approve the neonicotinoid for a third year running was “a total failure of responsibility to protect vital species”.

Use of thiamethoxam could be fatal, say environmentalists (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Use of thiamethoxam could be fatal, say environmentalists (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Joan Edwards, of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “This government deems it acceptable to allow the use of a toxic pesticide that is extremely harmful to bees and other insects, at a time when populations of our precious pollinators are already in freefall. This is unacceptable.”

Amy Heley, of the Pesticide Collaboration said: “In previous years, Defra insisted the sugar industry must make progress in finding alternatives, but we are yet to see any outcomes of this.”

Gareth Morgan, of the Soil Association, said: “It is inexcusable to see England falling so far behind the EU on regulations in place to prevent such a detrimental impact on biodiversity.

“It is not credible to claim an exemption is temporary or emergency when it is used year after year. How many years will bans of these harmful chemicals be overridden?”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it had attached strict conditions to the authorisation, including only allowing for application if independent modelling predicted a virus incidence of 63 per cent or above.

It said if it was used, the number of seeds per hectare was capped and planting flowering crops in later years were limited to allow time for the chemical to break down.

Published by anthonyhayble

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