Closed petition Overturn the decision to allow the use of neonicotinoid pesticides

Defra has granted farmers in England the temporary right to use the insecticide thiamethoxam for a 120-day period. This pesticide is proven to be harmful to bees, which are vital pollinators and already suffering population decline. The decision needs to be reversed.

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No one crop is important enough to jeopardise bees, without which our entire food system would be at risk. This pesticide is banned in the EU on the basis of its proven harm to pollinators and to use it even for a short period will contaminate soil and water. Although bees are dormant during winter the 120 day period will include the spring when they emerge to begin foraging.

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Government responded

This response was given on 8 August 2022

The use of neonicotinoids is prohibited other than via an emergency authorisation, in emergency circumstances, with strict conditions to mitigate risks to bees and other pollinators.

The Government is fully persuaded that the widespread use of neonicotinoids should not be permitted. The exceptional temporary use (in England only) of a neonicotinoid pesticide treatment on the 2022 sugar beet crop is the outcome of an emergency authorisation, granted with very strict conditions to mitigate risks to bees and other pollinators.

The Government's landmark Environment Act 2021 commits to halting the decline in biodiversity by 2030. Developing and implementing policies that maximise the use of alternatives to pesticides, while ensuring pests and pesticide resistance are managed effectively, will play an important role in achieving this.

Emerging sugar beet seedlings are vulnerable to predation by aphids which have the potential to spread beet yellows virus. Sugar beet crops have been severely affected, with 2020 yields down by a quarter on previous years. Other pesticide and organic treatments are not sufficiently effective in controlling the virus.

The 2022 emergency authorisation was granted subject to strict conditions including an initial threshold for use, to ensure the seed treatment is used only if the predicted virus incidence is at or above 19% of the national crop according to independent modelling.

Further conditions include a prohibition on any flowering crop being planted in the same field where the product has been used within 32 months of a treated sugar beet crop. To further mitigate the risks, the maximum amount of treatment approved for use is 6% of the quantity of active substance applied on a range of crops in 2016 before neonicotinoids were prohibited.

63% of the UK’s sugar comes from domestic production of sugar beet which could be at risk if a significant amount of the national crop is infected. The strictly time limited emergency authorisation of this neonicotinoid treatment provides emergency protection against this virus, which could significantly impact yields of the sugar beet crop while the beet industry develops alternative solutions.

The EU restricted three neonicotinoid pesticides, including thiamethoxam, in 2018 due to evidence of their harm to pollinators. The UK supported this move. Emergency authorisations of pesticides are used by countries across Europe. Twelve EU countries including Belgium, Denmark and Spain have granted emergency authorisations for neonicotinoid seed treatments since 2018. The UK’s approach to the use of emergency authorisations has not changed as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU and we applied the most stringent conditions for its emergency use.

Pollinators are a priority for this government, and we are taking action alongside many partners to implement the National Pollinator Strategy’s provisions. The National Pollinator Strategy Action Plan was published in May 2022 and sets out more specifically how we will continue to act to fulfil the vision, aims and objectives of the Strategy, over the period 2021-2024.

In the long-term, British Sugar has a plan for the development of alternative approaches to managing yellows virus, including breeding resistant strains of sugar beet through traditional and potential gene editing routes. The Government is also incentivising sustainable approaches to pest management, including through Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approaches.

IPM is a holistic approach which carefully considers all available plant protection methods and keeps the use of pesticides to levels that are ecologically and economically justified. In addition, we are developing an IPM standard through the Sustainable Farming Incentive, planned for introduction in 2023, which will support and encourage farmers to take up IPM.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Other parliamentary business

Use of neonicotinoids and the impact on bees debated by MPs

MPs debated the use of neonicotinoids and the impact on bees, on Wednesday 2 February in Westminster Hall. The debate was led by Luke Pollard MP.

Read a transcript of the debate: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-02-02/debates/42B1B3D6-170B-41EC-BC78-8AEF03423466/BeesNeonicotinoids

Watch the debate: https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/4ac5065b-3b38-480c-8865-39f8a6288882

This was a general debate. General debates allow MPs to debate important issues, however they do not end in a vote nor can they change the law.

Find out more about how Parliamentary debates work: https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/debates/

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