Calls for ban on 'bee-killing' pesticides to remain on East Anglian farms


There are fears banned neonicotinoid pesticides harm bees, but the region's farmers have been given temporary permission to use them on this year's beet crop - Credit: Chris Bishop

Labour has called for the Government to reverse its decision to temporarily lift the ban on "bee-killing" pesticides for use on sugar beet.

The pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, are banned because of evidence they harm bees, but farmers can apply for emergency use of the chemicals.

On Friday, the Government said it had decided to grant an application on behalf of East Anglian farmers for an emergency authorisation for use of a product containing the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam for the treatment of sugar beet seed in 2021.

The decision was made in because of the "potential danger posed to the 2021 crop from beet yellows virus", and on the basis it was needed, use was limited and the risks to bees were acceptable, the Environment Department (Defra) said.

Farmers across the region welcomed the decision, saying the sector was working to find long-term solutions to the disease in sugar beet. The crop is one of the cornerstones of the industry across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, supporting thousands of jobs on the land, road haulage and sugar factories. But wildlife groups reacted with dismay.

Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard has written to Environment Secretary George Eustice to urge him to reverse lifting the ban, and for this to be scrutinised by MPs with a vote in Parliament.

He said: "The ban on bee-killing pesticides must remain in place to protect our natural environment. Labour is demanding a vote in Parliament on the Government's plan.

"We support our farmers but ending this ban is not the solution to tackle crop blight."

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Responding to the Government move, Joan Edwards, director of public affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, said: "The secretary of state's decision to authorise the use of an environmentally devastating chemical to increase production of a crop with no nutritional value is madness.

"Instead, the Government should be focusing their efforts on regenerative farming approaches, supporting farmers to produce nutritional food which is good for people and has a positive effect on wildlife."

But the National Farmers' Union (NFU) said it was relieved it had been granted its application for emergency use of the neonicotinoid seed treatment, which would only be used if the threshold for the threat level of virus yellows was independently judged to have been reached.

NFU sugar board chairman Michael Sly said: "Any treatment will be used in a limited and controlled way on sugar beet, a non-flowering crop, and only when the scientific threshold has been independently judged to have been met.

"Virus yellows disease is having an unprecedented impact on Britain's sugar beet crop, with some growers experiencing yield losses of up to 80%, and this authorisation is desperately needed to fight this disease.

"It will be crucial in ensuring that Britain's sugar beet growers continue to have viable farm businesses. The sector continues to work as quickly as possible to find long-term solutions to virus yellows disease."

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