IN JANUARY, the UK Secretary of State for the Environment, George Eustice, granted an application by the NFU and British Sugar for emergency authorisation of thiamethoxam for the treatment of sugar beet seed in 2022.

It was granted for the second year running “in recognition of the potential danger posed to the 2022 crop from beet yellows virus” – despite the pesticide being banned in 2018 due to unacceptable risks to the environment, particularly to bees.

The decision to authorise thiamethoxam this year goes against the recommendation of the UK Government’s own advisors, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) – they both state that they cannot support the authorisation of the banned neonicotinoid pesticide.

This week The Wildlife Trusts’ lawyers, Leigh Day, wrote to Secretary of State George Eustice, citing explicit advice from the Government’s own appointed experts – and revealing contradictions in Government decision-making. They point out:

  • The Government’s conclusion that “potential risks to bees can be mitigated to a low level” is flawed – this conclusion is unsupported (and, indeed, contradicted) by the advice and expert evidence given to the Government. And so, their conclusion was unsustainable and thus unlawful.
  • “The ECP specifically found that “[t]here is new evidence regarding the risk from neonicotinoids globally which adds to the weight of evidence of adverse impact on honeybee behaviour and demonstrated negative impacts on bee colonies.”
  • “The HSE found that the studies that were available to assess the chronic risk to honeybees “indicated that there is an unacceptable risk under the standard criteria for a commercial authorisation”.
  • “As regards mitigation, the HSE concluded that “[i]f ‘Cruiser SB’ [the neonicotinoid] is used in 2022, there are no obvious practical solutions for mitigating against the unquantified risks to bees”.
  • “The HSE, the Expert Committee on Pesticides and the Chief Scientific Officer all agree that there are known sub-lethal dose effects on bees, such as an inability to return to their hive after low-level exposure to Thiamethoxam. They also agree that the lower limit dose for such non-lethal effects is ‘unknown’.”
  • The Government’s justification that circumstances justifying the authorisation were “special” and temporary, gave no indication that the alternatives being developed stand any prospect of success, and if they do, there was no discussion of the timeframe in which this will be achieved.

The Wildlife Trusts have requested a response to their legal letter by Friday 18 February 2022.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says: “We’re faced with the shocking prospect that bee-killing pesticides will become the new norm with bans lifted every year. We need to know what plans the Government has for avoiding the use of a product that’s so harmful to pollinators, rivers and people. Why isn’t the Government listening to its own expert advisors? In the recent Westminster debate on the issue, this was the question many MPs asked – and yet the Government was unable to respond coherently.

“And why will Integrated Pest Management support not be available in the new Environmental Land Management Schemes for farmers until 2023? Defra could have brought this more natural approach forward in their recent farming announcements to send a clear message about avoiding pesticides wherever possible and supporting growers to use alternative approaches to farming without them.”

A coalition of charities including The Wildlife Trusts, Friends of the Earth, RSPB and Pesticide Action Network reacted to last month’s announcement, saying: “Thiamethoxam is known to have a devastating effect on wildlife – a single teaspoon is toxic enough to kill 1.25 billion bees. Less than two months ago the Government adopted a legally binding commitment to halt the decline of wildlife by 2030 within its flagship Environment Act – the authorisation of this neonicotinoid flies in the face of this commitment and sounds a death knell for millions of bees and other insects.”

* Source: The Wildlife Trusts