MPs to debate bee-killing pesticides as government greenlights their use yet again

Bee pollinating lavender
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MPs will debate the use of bee-killing pesticides in agriculture on 1 February. The debate follows the government authorising the use of such pesticides for the third year in a row.

Harmful pesticides

As the Canary previously reported, the UK greenlit the use of thiamethoxam, a neonicotinoid, on sugar beet crops in 2021. Neonicotinoids are harmful to bees and other pollinators. The government’s decision came after lobbying from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and British Sugar. It approved the pesticide’s use through an “emergency authorisation”.

Read on...

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Bees, along with other pollinators, are among the insects that appear to be facing dramatic declines in Britain and various other parts of the world.

Pollinators are vital to the ecosystems that all life depends on, with around 80% of wild plants and 75% of crops dependent on them. As the US Forest Service puts it:

Without pollinators, the human race and all of earth’s terrestrial ecosystems would not survive.

Nonetheless, the UK government again authorised the pesticide’s use on sugar beet in 2022. At the time, the Wildlife Trusts chief executive Craig Bennett said:

We’re faced with the shocking prospect that bee-killing pesticides will become the new norm with bans lifted every year.

The government authorisations related to the possible danger that beet yellows virus, which is spread by aphids, posed to sugar beet crops. Each year, the expected level of the virus had to meet a certain threshold in order for the planned use to go ahead.

The new norm

Bennett’s concern about the pesticide’s approval becoming the norm was warranted. On 23 January, news emerged that the government has given thiamethoxam the green light for the third time running.

As BBC News reported, while the NFU welcomed the decision, the government’s own independent panel of pesticide experts warned against it. The expert panel provided advice to the government on the issue. It said it agreed with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) evaluation that an emergency authorisation lacks the necessary justification. Moreover, the panel said it agreed with the following point from HSE:

Based on the information currently available, it is considered that the potential adverse effects to honey bees and other pollinators cannot be excluded to a satisfactory level if an authorisation were to be granted and this outweighs any likely benefits.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister Mark Spencer, who has a farming background and maintains interests in the sector, considered this advice but ultimately appeared to conclude the opposite. He said that the emergency authorisation criteria is met and the benefits outweigh the risks.

Environmental vandalism

The UK’s underlying ban on neonicotinoids comes from its time as an EU member. There’s a bloc-wide ban on outdoor use of neonicotinoids. Until recently, this ban also had a mechanism for emergency authorisations. But the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a ruling on 19 January which means the EU will no longer allow such authorisations.

The Pesticide Collaboration is asking the public to write to their MPs, asking them to attend the parliamentary debate on 1 February. The group is a coalition of academics, farmers and organisations working towards the reduction of pesticide-related harms.

Labour’s Luke Pollard, who secured the debate, labelled the government’s decision to greenlight use yet again as “environmental vandalism”.

The Wildlife Trusts also pointed out that the government itself pressed for action to reduce pesticide use at the UN biodiversity conference – COP15 – in December 2022.

In other words, the government is talking the talk on pesticides but failing to follow it up with action.

Featured image via Ian Kirk / Wikimedia, cropped to 770×403, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Get involved

  • You can email your MP to ask them to attend the pesticide debate in parliament here.

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