‘Banned’ pesticide won't be used on 2021 sugar beet crop

But bees still under threat from emergency pesticide authorisations
  Published:  02 Mar 2021    |      3 minute read

Welcoming news that an emergency authorisation for the use of ‘banned’ neonicotinoid pesticide on sugar beet will not now be used, Sandra Bell, pesticides campaigner for Friends of the Earth said:

“It’s great news for bees and other pollinators that this ‘banned’ pesticide won’t be used on sugar beet crops this year.

“But our bees have been saved by the weather, not by the government, which was prepared to put pollinators and other wildlife at risk by approving the temporary use of these pesticides.

”Unfortunately this may only be a short reprieve - the government has already indicated that it will consider authorising the use of this neonicotinoid on sugar beet for another two years.

“This should not be allowed. The government and industry must redouble their efforts to find alternative and effective pest and disease control for farmers – focussing on agroecological methods that work with nature, not against it. This must be central to the new National Action Plan on pesticides that the government is now drawing up.”

Friends of the Earth also has concerns about the lack of transparency in the government’s decision making process on emergency authorisations. Sandra Bell said:

“It is unacceptable that the expert advice and evidence behind decisions to allow banned pesticides to be used are shrouded in secrecy. Friends of the Earth has repeatedly had to resort to Freedom of Information legislation for documents that should be open to public scrutiny. There should be improved transparency in decision making.”


Notes to editors

1. Neonicotinoid pesticides (also known as neonics) are banned in the European Union and the UK for use on all outdoor crops, because of the high risk to bees and other pollinators. This ban which was based on a thorough scientific assessment of the evidence was backed by the UK government, and includes non-flowering crops like wheat and sugar beet. These pesticides contaminate the soil, so that crops grown in the same field and wildflowers grown nearby can take up the chemical. Bees can even get a harmful dose by drinking from sap droplets on a plant. Neonicotinoids also contaminate rivers, posing a threat to aquatic invertebrates, and consumption of treated seeds poses a risk to birds. In 2018, the UK government refused an application for emergency authorisation for use of neonicotinoids on sugar beet, because of the environmental risk and on the advice of its own scientific experts. But in January 2021 it granted an emergency authorisation for sugar beet farmers to use the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam. Friends of the Earth has analysed the flaws in this decision here.

2. The emergency authorisation was subject to a threshold for the level of crop damage predicted from virus yellows infection – which is carried by aphids – and determined by modelling carried out by Rothamsted Research. If the threshold was not met the seeds would not be treated. Today Rothamsted Research confirmed that the virus yellows prediction for the 2021 sugar beet crop remains very low - the cold weather has had a significant impact on overwintering aphid populations, both reducing their numbers and delaying the date of their migration into the 2021 crop. See Farmers Guardian.

3. Friends of the Earth submitted requests to Defra and HSE under the Environmental Information Requests legislation on 20 January for the expert advice and evidence that the government relied on to make its decision. Friends of the Earth has not so far received any of the information requested.

4. The decision to grant emergency authorisation has not necessarily been facilitated by the UK’s departure from the EU. Emergency authorisations have been a problem across the EU, so much so that the European Commission has asked for an independent scientific review of those granted so far. The European Food Safety Authority is currently scrutinising these decisions  and expects to report in 2021. The UK decision will not be included in this review – raising the question of whether scrutiny of such decisions will be robust outside the EU.

5. The government is currently writing its National Action Plan for pesticides. Friends of the Earth is calling for this to include ambitious targets to reduce the use and impacts of pesticides and support for farmers to take up non-chemical methods of control. On Friday Friends of the Earth handed in a petition with over 158,000 signatures asking the government to ensure pesticide use is cut to protect our wildlife. .