There will be no executions for bees in 2021

The announcement that a banned neonicotinoid won’t be used on sugar beet is good news – but it doesn’t stop the risk to wildlife in years to come

Bees and other wildlife may have received temporary reparations and could now avoid being poisoned by a toxic pesticide, as recently very cold weather is killing virus-transmitting aphids that can attack sugar beet crops.

The Wildlife Trusts are pleased that the government will not issue an emergency permit for the use of a banned neonicotinoid on sugar beet this year. Tests have shown that the predicted viral infection level is 8.37%, which is insufficient to meet the threshold for using the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam to combat the virus that affects sugar beet. [British Beet Research Organisation announcement here.]

The fact that the virus threshold was not reached this year after an unusually cold January and February does not ensure that neonicotinoids will not be used to treat sugar beet seeds in future times of the year

While the Wildlife Trusts are pleased that the government will not proceed with this extremely damaging permit this year, this “stay of execution” does nothing to change the underlying problem – that the neonicotinoid may be approved in the future.

Bee, Copyright Paul Watkins, from the Surfbirds Galleries

The Wildlife Trusts believe that the Secretary of State’s decision to issue an emergency permit was flawed and legally unsustainable, and that virus threshold was not reached this year after an unusually cold January and February, which does not ensure that neonicotinoids are not used Treatment will be applied to sugar beet seeds in future seasons and will have a devastating effect on wildlife in the UK.

The Foreign Minister (SoS) stated that he had passed the three tests required for an emergency permit. The tests are: that the permit appears necessary because of a hazard that cannot be contained in any other reasonable way; that the use of the product is restricted and controlled; and that there are special circumstances. However, due to the cold weather, the aphid threshold that triggers approval has not been reached.

Joan Edwards, Director of Policy at The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“We believe the exemption would not have resulted in what is known as ‘restricted’ use of the seed coating that contained the neonicotinoid. In reality, the rules would have allowed this highly harmful chemical to be used in a large geographic area for 120 days. The weather conditions for the aphids in these areas could possibly have been very different and vary from farm to farm. This means the chemical may have been used in places where it wasn’t needed – this is not a restricted use.

“The Wildlife Trusts are also questioning the legality of the exemption and future exemptions repealed this year, as the Secretary of State has not provided any new evidence or analysis to justify the repeal of the 2018 decision to ban thiamethoxam. What has changed since former Environment Secretary Michael Gove said, “The weight of the evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to bees and other pollinators.”

“Finally, we would like to know why the Foreign Minister decided that the situation is different this year – and why the advice of the health and safety representative was ignored. In November 2020, it was recommended that the “emergency permit not be issued”.

“The neonicotinoid threat has not gone away and The Wildlife Trusts will seek legal advice on how to proceed with the next steps to address this issue.”

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