pesticide organic

Defra approved an emergency temporary authorisation for the use of the neonicotinoid pesticide treatment on this year’s sugar beet crop 

Environmental groups have criticised the government for allowing the use of banned pesticide thiamethoxam for the third year in a row.

Defra approved an emergency temporary authorisation for the use of the neonicotinoid pesticide treatment on this year’s sugar beet crop due to the risk to the crop from yellow virus.

Three neonicotinoids including thiamethoxam were banned for outdoor agricultural use in the UK and the EU in 2018 due to the impact they have on bees. According to campaign group Pesticide Collaboration, the chemical has the ability to kill 1.25 billion bees from just a teaspoon of the pesticide.

It comes as the independent UK Expert Committee on Pesticides this year advised against allowing the use of thiamethoxan. However, this advice was ignored by the government.

Soil Association head of farming policy Gareth Morgan said it was “not credible to claim an exemption is temporary or emergency when it is used year after year”.

The organisation has called for better support for nature-based solutions, more investment in farmer-led research, practical advice and peer-to-peer learning for farmers, and for government action to spark a shift to more diverse farming systems.

Morgan said it was “inexcusable” and that “if the government is serious about halting biodiversity loss by 2030, they must support farmers to explore long-term, agroecological solutions that do not threaten our endangered bee population or other wildlife”.

“Neonicotinoids simply have no place in a sustainable farming system, and farmers need support and guidance to end reliance on them,” he added.

These concerns were echoed by Pesticide Collaboration, which is a coalition of health, environmental, farming and consumer groups, academics and trade unions, and complained there “was no opportunity to scrutinise the application”.

“In previous years, Defra insisted the sugar industry must make progress in finding alternatives, but we are yet to see any outcomes of this,” said Amy Heley, public affairs and media officer at the Pesticide Collaboration.

“We are deeply concerned that this emergency derogation is simply another example of the government failing to follow through on their own pledges to improve the environment and protect human health.”

The government has outlined that emergency authorisations for pesticide use are only for “a short period of time, in special circumstances where it is necessary because of a danger that cannot be contained by any other reasonable means”.

“The product can only be used if a strict threshold is met and on a single non-flowering crop,” explained Mark Spencer, farming minister. “This decision has not been taken lightly and is based on extensive and rigorous scientific assessment.”

The overall ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides remains in place.

It comes as Defra today announced new plans for the nation’s farming sector, including an accelerated rollout and the addition of six new standards to the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

They build on the three existing standards to improve soil health and moorlands introduced in 2022, which nearly 1,900 farmers already have in agreements.