Last reviewed 22 January 2022

The Government has approved an emergency authorisation for farmers to use neonicotinoid pesticides to protect sugar beet crops, despite impact on bees and other pollinators. 

Defra announced that it will permit the temporary use of the banned pesticide, thiamethoxam, on sugar beet in England in 2022, because of the threat posed by a virus, transmitted by aphids and because of a danger that the threat cannot be contained by any other reasonable means.

In a statement, the Environment Secretary, George Eustice said the application is “in line with the relevant legal requirements for plant protection products and has decided that emergency authorisation should be granted subject to a number of conditions”.

The application for emergency authorisation came from the National Farmers Union (NFU) and British Sugar. Commenting on the approval, British Sugar said: “We are pleased that Ministers have granted our application for limited and controlled emergency use of a neonicotinoid seed treatment to protect the UK sugar beet crop from Virus Yellows disease in 2022, should conditions mean it is required”.

Neonicotinoids (NNs) were banned for agricultural use in the UK and the EU in 2018 due to their devastating impact on bees and other pollinators. At the time, former Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, supported the ban, saying scientific evidence shows that “the risk to bees and other pollinators, which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood”. 

The decision to lift the ban has provoked outrage from conservation groups who said it betrays the government’s green promises and goes against the recommendations of its scientific advisers.

Joan Edwards, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the Wildlife Trusts, said: “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.”

RSPB Senior Policy Officer Stephanie Morren said: “Without bees our farming system would collapse. As we tackle the nature and climate emergency on our doorsteps we need decision-makers at Westminster and across the UK to support our farmers in delivering sustainable farming”.

In the statement, Defra said that farmers would not be allowed to grow flowering plants for 32 months after the sugar beet crop to minimise the risk to bees, but admitted that “the risk to bees, do not fully meet the normal requirements for standard authorisation”.