Government ignores scientific advice on pesticide

Barry White

The recent decision by the government to ignore advice scientific and allow farmers to continue using a bee-harming pesticide on sugar beet crops has been criticised by ecologists. The neonicotinoid pesticide treatment, known as thiamethoxam, was banned in the EU in 2018 due to the damage it causes to bees, pollinators and aquatic life if it ends up in rivers. The pesticide was previously approved for use on sugar beet due to a high incidence of yellows virus, which can destroy crops. Around 63 per cent of the UK’s sugar is produced domestically, and the government says this could be at risk if a significant amount of the crop is infected.

Joan Edwards, director of policy & public affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Just last month, the Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey committed the UK to halving the environmental impact of damaging pesticides by 2030. However, today she has incompatibly authorised the use of a banned neonicotinoid, one of the world’s most environmentally damaging pesticides, defying the advice of the Government’s own Expert Committee on Pesticides for a third year in a row.

“Only a few days ago, the EU’s highest court ruled that EU countries should no longer be allowed temporary exemptions for banned, bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides, putting half of all such derogations to an end. Yet 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 when the Government should be implementing fast, meaningful support to help farmers move away from a reliance on toxic pesticides.”

Sandra Bell, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:“It’s incredibly brazen to allow a banned bee-harming pesticide back into UK fields mere weeks after the government talked up the need for global ambition on reducing pesticides at the UN biodiversity talks in Montreal.

“This is the third consecutive year that the government has gone directly against the advice of its own scientific advisors with potentially devastating consequences for bees and other vital pollinators. The health of us all and the planet depends on their survival. The government must fulfil its duty to protect wildlife and keep pesticides off our crops for good – that means supporting farmers to find nature-friendly ways to control pests.”

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said that the product can only be used if a strict threshold is met and on a single non-flowering crop and the decision had not been taken lightly and was based on extensive and rigorous scientific assessment.

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