Lifting ban on bee-killing pesticide would be ‘disaster for nature’

Monday 18th October 2021

  • Thiamethoxam was banned for all outdoor use across the UK in 2018 because of its harmful effects on bees and other wildlife
  • But the Government is considering lifting the ban for sugar beet farmers in England, threatening population levels of our precious pollinators
  • Farmland covers 75% of the UK making it vital in the fight to reverse nature’s decline
  • On October 20th MPs will vote on a clause in the landmark Environment Bill that would directly protect pollinators from pesticides

The Government is deciding whether to temporarily reverse a ban on extremely toxic pesticides  in spring even as MPs prepare to vote on new laws protecting bees and other pollinators from harmful chemicals, as part of the Environment Bill.

Neonicotinoids (NNs) were banned for agricultural use in the UK and the EU in 2018 due to their devastating impact on bees. Even minute traces of these toxic chemicals in crop pollen play havoc with bees’ ability to forage and navigate, with catastrophic consequences for the survival of their colony.

Environmental organisations such as the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and Buglife say they are concerned sugar producer British Sugar is again applying for an emergency authorisation to use NN thiamethoxam in sugar beet in England in 2022.

British Sugar was successful when it made the same application last year because of the threat posed by a virus, transmitted by aphids. But bees were protected by a cold winter which killed off large numbers of aphids, meaning the threshold for use was not met and thiamexthoxam was not used (1).

The decision to approve thiamethoxam use last year was made despite the government’s own advisors recommending against approval, which was brought to light through Freedom of Information requests lodged by Friends of the Earth

The government’s decision, despite HSE’s objection, provoked an outcry with around 40 organisations signing an open letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who said that allowing farmers to use these harmful pesticides ignored the science and seriously undermined the Westminster  Government’s own aims to leave the environment in a better state than it found it.

The RSPB, Buglife and Friends of the Earth say that the Government should be going much further to ensure that farmers have alternatives to harmful pesticides, and increasing the protection for bees and other wildlife from the harm caused by pesticides.

This week on October 20th MPs will vote on a clause in the landmark Environment Bill that would directly protect pollinators from pesticides.

RSPB senior policy officer Stephanie Morren said: “Bees are one of our best-loved group of insects: without them our farming system would collapse. Approving this application would be a disaster for nature.

“We are in a nature and climate emergency and since 75% of land in England is farmed we cannot reverse nature’s decline without the support of our farmers.

“Yet highly toxic pesticides like neonicotinoids have no place in a sustainable farming system. It is unthinkable that our government would let an opportunity to protect our pollinators and revive our world slip through its fingers.

“Questions must be raised about how approving even temporary use of these chemicals and endangering our declining bee populations is in any way consistent with halting wildlife decline. Instead, farmers must be supported to reduce reliance on these harmful chemicals.”

Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife, said: “Neonicotinoids approved under the current pesticide approval process devastated populations of wild bees and heavily polluted rivers.  It is shameful that no action has been taken to ensure that bee and wildlife destroying pesticides are properly assessed as being pollinator safe before they are approved or derogated for use.  It is essential that on the 20th October MPs take the opportunity to vote for bees and secure this essential pesticide risk assessment stage.”

If successful, the new Environment Bill clause would close the door to untried or untested cocktails of chemicals being sprayed onto our farmland without fully understanding the impact on pollinators. The new clause would also enshrine in law public consultation for every pesticide approval and emergency permit.

Sandra Bell, pesticides campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: “MPs are currently debating new environmental protections for nature in what’s being touted as the government’s flagship Environment Bill. Allowing a bee-harming pesticide back into our fields would be totally at odds with ministers’ so-called green ambitions.

“That’s why they, along with industry, must redouble efforts to find effective alternatives which help farmers keep pests under control, focusing on agroecological methods that work with nature, not against it.

“MPs can best use their influence by voting for a robust Environment Bill which will restore nature, ensure the creation of a credible environmental watchdog, and improve protection for pollinators.”