Ministers have given farmers the green light to use a banned bee-killing pesticide in England for the second year running.
The government went against the advice of its own scientific advisers, who said they saw no justification for using the neonicotinoid on sugar beets this year.
A single teaspoon of thiamethoxam is toxic enough to kill 1.25 billion bees, according to biology professor and insect expert Dave Goulson, and wildlife chiefs warned the decision could wipe out already ailing bee populations.
Environmental officials announced they will allow the pesticide to be used to control an aphid-borne virus.
They say the UK’s sugar harvest could otherwise be at risk this year and that “its exceptional temporary use will be strictly controlled and only allowed in very specific circumstances where strict requirements are met”.
Neonicotinoids are considered so harmful that the UK and EU banned them in 2018, but since then 12 countries including France, Denmark and Spain have also granted emergency use authorizations for neonicotinoid treatments.
There was an outcry this time last year when ministers first gave beet growers the green light to apply the pesticide, though it was eventually left unused because a cold winter killed the aphids.
Wildlife experts warned the decision “delivers a deathblow to millions of bees and other insects” and goes against government pledges to halt biodiversity loss.
The Pesticide Collaboration, which includes environmental organizations RSPB, Friends of the Earth, Buglife and the Wildlife Trusts, said it would harm wildlife and that the government should improve protection of bees and other wildlife from the harm caused by pesticides.
Minutes of a meeting of the Pesticides Expert Committee show that members agreed that the requirements for the emergency permit had not been met and that the pesticide water pollution caused by the decision would harm river life.
Even minute traces of neonicotinoid chemicals in crop pollen or wildflowers “wipe out bees’ ability to forage and navigate, with disastrous consequences for their colony survival,” according to the RSPB.
A recent study showed that even a single exposure to a “neonic” insecticide significantly affected bees’ ability to produce offspring.
It’s believed that a third of Britain’s bee population has disappeared in a decade, but studies show that up to three-quarters of crop species are pollinated by bees.
Thiamethoxam is a seed treatment that’s absorbed by the whole plant, including the flowers, pollen and sap of the plant, where insects forage, wildlife experts say.
Friends of the Earth’s Sandra Bell said: “Releasing a bee-killing pesticide back into our fields is totally at odds with ministers’ so-called green ambitions.”
Joan Edwards of The Wildlife Trusts said the decision was “a clear betrayal of promises to protect the natural world and comes at a time when nature’s decline is worse than ever,” adding, “Less than two months ago The government has a legally binding commitment to halt wildlife decline by 2030 under its flagship environmental law – the approval of this neonicotinoid goes against that commitment and spells the death knell for millions of bees and other insects.”
A Defra spokesman said: “This decision was not taken lightly and is based on sound scientific assessment. We weigh the risks very carefully and only issue temporary emergency authorizations for restricted crop protection products under special circumstances and in compliance with strict conditions.
“Strict criteria remain in place, which means that this permit will only be used when necessary.”
The government also says work on gene editing will help develop plants that are more resistant to aphids.
LatestPageNews has reached out to British Sugar, which made the emergency request, for comment.
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