What’s Going On Here?
After an application from the National Farmers Union (NFU) and British Sugar, last week Defra authorised the ‘emergency’ use of a neonicotinoid pesticide treatment on sugar beet crops planted in England in the 2022 season. In 2018, the EU banned all outdoor uses of neonicotinoids due to evidence that they cause harm to bees.
What Does This Mean?
The emergency usage has been granted due to the impact viruses, particularly those spread by aphids, can have on crop yields. The yield of sugar beet in 2020 for example, a year when neonicotinoids were not authorised for use, was 25% down on previous years.
There are several conditions attached to the authorisation, such as the pest risk having to reach a certain threshold. This risk is independently modelled and includes many factors such as the weather in the proceeding season. Defra also granted emergency use of the pesticide in 2021 but it wasn’t required as a cold winter meant less risk to the crop.
Why Should We Care?
We all know bee and pollinator populations in general are in decline and we also know pollinators are critical to life on earth as we know it. So, at face value it feels very odd for Defra to authorise use of something that has previously been banned and is known to harm pollinators. Some would argue that from a purely environmental perspective it is totally nonsensical and unjustifiable.
So how has this happened? It may feel like this authorisation is a massive step backwards but if we take a wider view of the neonicotinoid situation we are in a much better place than we were pre-2018. Unfortunately there may always be powerful forces working in, what feels like, direct opposition to the environment. What this ongoing saga does highlight, however, is that campaigning does work and there are success stories (so keep it up!). It also highlights the fact that these situations are never simple, crop yields are important after all, so keep an open mind and bee curious!
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