UK government secretly allows use of bee-killing pesticides, breaking international laws
Bees and other pollinators play an essential role in ensuring biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem.
They are essential for the reproduction, and therefore the survival, of many plants which, in turn, provide food and shelter for a variety of animals.
They are also essential to our food security, providing vital human nutrition. Over the past 50 years, the volume of global agricultural production dependent on pollinators has increased by 300%.
The real importance of pollinators
“Without bees, we wouldn’t be able to produce much of the food we take for granted,” says Barnaby Coupe, head of land use policy at Wildlife Trusts.
“From staples like broccoli and apples to seasonal treats like strawberries, a third of total food production depends on insect pollination,” he adds.
But sadly, these buzzing pollinators are in decline.
They have been hit hard by the loss and fragmentation of the habitats they depend on, such as wildflower meadows and hedgerows, Coupe says. Above all – this includes the widespread and unnecessary use of toxic pesticides.
Allow “emergency” use of bee-killing pesticides
The intensive use of agricultural pesticides plays a major role in the decline of pollinators, which have suffered serious losses in recent years.
As a result, Britain’s Environment Secretary George Eustice’s decision last month to allow the ’emergency’ use of the banned pesticide thiamethoxam on sugar beet in England was met with disappointment. and disbelief.
This went directly against the advice of government experts, who say the use of this chemical, used to control virus-carrying aphids, poses an unacceptable risk to bees and other pollinators. Aphids are small insects that feed by sucking plant sap.
In response, lawyers for the Wildlife Trusts are now launching a legal challenge unless the government can prove their decision is legal.
“We face the shocking prospect that bee-killing pesticides will become the new norm, with bans lifted every year,” says Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts.
“We need to know what the government’s plans are to avoid the use of a product so harmful to pollinators, rivers and people.”
He asks, “Why doesn’t the government listen to its own expert advisers? During the recent Westminster debate on the issue, that was the question many MPs asked – and yet the government was unable to answer consistently.
Neonics are banned in the EU and UK
Thiamethoxam belongs to a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. Commonly referred to as neonics, these chemicals are widely used around the world. But in 2018 the more toxic ones, including thiamethoxam, were banned from all outdoor use in the EU and UK, due to overwhelming evidence of the harm they cause to bees and other pollinators.
Bees, poisoned with these chemicals, often exhibit twitching or paralysis of flight muscles and there is a failure in the returning behavior of foragers, which reduces the amount of food available to the colony. A single exposure is enough to significantly damage the ability of future generations of bees to reproduce.
Widespread environmental contamination is also common, with neonics seeping into the ground, contaminating groundwater and affecting aquatic ecosystems. In 2017, a investigation also found their residues in 75% of global honey samples analyzed.
But flaws allow continued use…
However, widespread use continues because EU member states can grant an “emergency waiver”.
This allows for temporary use if such a measure becomes necessary due to the danger of a virus which cannot be contained by any other reasonable means.
Pressure from the UK sugar beet industry
More than half of the sugar consumed in the UK is produced from sugar beets grown in England.
Vast amounts of prime farmland are being set aside in an effort to satisfy our insatiable demand for sugar, but climate change is causing problems for the crop, with warmer winters failing to kill virus-carrying aphids found on culture.
This resulted in continued pressure from British sugar to allow the use of thiamethoxam in certain circumstances, to control the number of aphids.
Although granted last year, the emergency clearance was not implemented as the cold weather killed the aphids, leaving only 2% of the crop infected.
Unfortunately – this winter is much warmer. Therefore, when scientific modeling is released on March 1, 2022, projected levels of the virus could be close to the threshold that would allow the “emergency” use of thiamethoxam, through sugar beet “seed treatment”. , to control the number of aphids.
Only about 5% of the pesticide reaches the crop using this method. The rest accumulates in the soil, often reaching higher and more persistent levels of contamination than in pollen and nectar.
This can be an important route of exposure for many organisms, including many species of bees, most of which nest underground. It is also absorbed by the roots of wildflowers and hedge plants visited by bees.
So, are UK bees safe?
Alternative action is needed
Just three months ago the Environment Act became law in the UK and the government pledged to halt species decline by 2030. However, according to Nick Mole, Pesticide Action Network Policy Officer in the UK, much more needs to be done to ensure that nature does not lose out.
“Alternative controls must be found for sugar beet, including the selection of disease-resistant varieties, and the sugar industry must invest some of its enormous profits to help its growers develop effective strategies that do not require the use of neonicotinoids toxic to bees. .”
“The UK government must stop approving these derogations as a matter of course. If they are serious about halting biodiversity loss, they must act, and the sugar industry must help its producers to be more sustainable,” he explains. -he.
Since 1970, half of all insects have disappeared.
In the UK, butterflies and moths are endangered, and wild bees and hoverflies are now absent from a quarter of the places where they were found in 1980.
Two species of British bumblebee are extinct and eight species are endangered. A similar situation is occurring across Europe, with the European red list of bees showing that nearly one in ten wild bee species is threatened with extinction.
Strategies such as good husbandry, natural pest control and the use of resistant varieties help ensure the cultivation of sugar beet without threatening our beesas many EU farmers already know.