Over 50,000 people have now added their name to ask the Prime Minister to overturn the authorisation for the emergency use of a bee-killing pesticide, thiamethoxam. Additionally, 645 Members of Parliament have been contacted by petitioners as public concern mounts over the threat to bees, wildflowers, river wildlife and the impact on soils.
Thiamethoxam is a neonicotinoid that is known to kill bees, but has been authorised for farmers to use on sugar beet crops in England this year. It was banned across the EU in 2018 because of the widespread harm it causes although some exemptions have been allowed.
The Secretary of State, George Eustice, made the decision on 8th January in response to the problems caused by beet yellows virus to farmers growing sugar beet – despite a similar application being refused in 2018 by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides because of “unacceptable environmental risks.”
The Government’s decision was based on the assumption that, as sugar beet is a non-flowering crop, the risks to bees are acceptable. However, the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides has raised significant concerns over the use of neonicotinoids for the treatment of sugar beet, for example:
Thiamethoxam persists in soils which could result in residues with the potential to present unacceptable risks to bees and other pollinators in following crops and flowering plants in field margins,
Published literature on the impact of neonicotinoid chemicals on bees and other pollinators was not taken into account when assessing the risks to bees.
The pesticide could leak into rivers and streams harming freshwater wildlife.
Only 5% of the pesticide goes where it is wanted, in the crop. Most ends up accumulating in the soil, from where it can be absorbed by the roots of wildflowers and hedgerow plants – or spread into freshwater streams, ditches and rivers. Over 3,800 invertebrate species in the UK spend at least part of their life cycle in freshwater and they play a vital role in maintaining clean water: they help to break down and filter organic matter and provide a food source for fish, birds and mammals. Without them, freshwater wildlife cannot survive.
The Government has said that weed killer would need to be used on the surrounding area around crops to kill wildflowers in case the plants absorbed the neonic and passed it onto bees and other insects. This spells further bad news for wild plants, at a time when they are fast disappearing from the farmed landscape and the wider countryside.
Neonics have also proved to be very persistent in the environment, turning up in soils five years or more after they were last used. Once in woody plants, such as flowering hedgerow shrubs, they also persist for years. As a result of all this evidence, The European Food Standards Agency concluded that there were no safe uses for these chemicals.