UK Exempts Farmers from Bans on Neonics

26.01.2023 - Days after the European Court of Justice ruled that EU member states could no longer grant temporary exemptions to farmers wanting to use expressly banned bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides, the brexited UK government granted emergency authorization for the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam to be used on sugar beet seeds.

The pesticide is made by Swiss agrochemicals producer Syngenta.

Commenting on the derogation granted against the advice of an independent panel of pesticide experts, environmental NGO Friends of the Earth called it "incredibly brazen.”

In contrast, the national farmers’ union Sugar board, said it was “relieved” by the decision, as the British sugar beet crop continues to be threatened by “virus yellows” disease, which in recent years has caused crop losses of up to 80%.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which authorized the planting, said “strict conditions” would be put in place, and the treated seeds could only be used if independent modelling predicted a yellows virus incidence of 63% or above.

If that threshold were upheld, unspecified “other” conditions would minimize the risks to the environment, DEFRA said, without further elaboration. At the same time, the government agency said the overall ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides remains in place.

UK farming minister, Mark Spencer, said the emergency use was allowed after "careful consideration" and as "a necessary measure to protect the industry.”

Spencer said the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the independent UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) and DEFRA’s own chief scientific adviser had been informed of the plans.

The ECP said it did not support the authorization, as the risk assessment showed a potential reduction in survival of honeybees, and the HSE agreed that the risks to bees foraging on pollen and nectar from flowering crops planted in fields after treated sugar beet were a “potential concern.”

The DEFRA adviser, however, said risks could be avoided with a 32-month moratorium on planting of flowering crop, even while adding that “there is clear and abundant evidence that these neonicotinoids are harmful to species other than those they are intended to control, and particularly to pollinators, including bees."

According to reports, this is the third consecutive year the UK has given emergency authorization to use neonics on bee-attractive crops. Even when still an EU member state, it continuously allowed British farmers opportunities the circumnavigate the bans.

In 2021, the British nature protection group Wildlife Trusts said it planned to take legal action against the UK government over its decision to allow a pesticide that is almost entirely banned in the EU.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist