Bees and neonicotinoids - February 2022

Dear Constituent,

Thank you for your email regarding pesticides and pollinators, particularly neonicotinoid seed treatments.

I believe that the restrictions on neonicotinoids remain justified due to the scientific evidence that they are harmful to bees and other pollinators. However, ministers can consider applications for emergency authorisations in exceptional circumstances where diseases or pests cannot be controlled by any other reasonable means. 

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has approved an emergency, temporary authorisation for the use of thiamethoxam, which is a neonicotinoid pesticide. This is due to the beet yellows virus, which poses a threat to sugar beets in England. I am aware that emerging sugar beet seedlings are vulnerable to predation by aphids, which have the potential to spread the virus. I understand that 63 per cent of the UK’s sugar comes from domestic production of sugar beet, which could be at risk if a significant amount of this national crop is infected. The strictly time limited emergency authorisation of this neonicotinoid treatment, Syngenta’s Cruiser SB, will provide emergency protection against this virus.

The temporary use of thiamethoxam will be tightly controlled. There will be an initial threshold for use, meaning that seed treatment will only be used if the predicted level of virus is at or above 19 per cent of the national crop according to independent modelling. I am assured that if the virus threshold is not met then the neonicotinoid treated seed will not be used, which was the case in 2021. Strict criteria remain in place, meaning that this authorisation will only be used if necessary and although similar approval was granted in 2021, the neonicotinoid, although authorised, was not required or used.

Finally, farmers will be forbidden from planting any flowering crop in the same field where the product has been used within 32 months of a treated sugar beet crop. This will reduce the environmental farm of thiamethoxam to bees.

Pollinators are an essential part of our environment and play a crucial role in food production. I know that the National Pollinator Strategy -National pollinator strategy: for bees and other pollinators in England - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) - sets out action ministers are taking to improve the status of bees and other pollinators in England on farmland and other areas. These actions include restoring and creating habitat for bees and other wild and managed pollinators to thrive; acting on the pressures that impact on pollinators, including by supporting Integrated Pest Management; providing advice and raising awareness across society so that they can take action themselves; and supporting new monitoring and research.

Further, the Healthy Bees Plan 2030 sets out additional action to improve honeybee health, alongside beekeeping associations and other interested parties - Defra launches the Healthy Bees Plan 2030 to help protect honey bees - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Since the Transition Period ended, I know that ministers continue to ensure that decisions on the use of pesticides are based on careful scientific assessment of the risks, with the aim of achieving a high level of protection for people and the environment. I am assured that pesticides that pose unacceptable risks, including to pollinators, are not authorised. Ministers have also developed a draft National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides, which sets out the ambition to support the development and greater uptake of Integrated Pest Management to reduce pressures on biodiversity and the natural environment.

It is also encouraging that the UK is moving to an ambitious new agricultural system which will reward farmers and land managers for the work they do to look after and enhance our environment. This will encourage actions that support Integrated Pest Management, as well as those that conserve and enhance habitats for bees and other pollinators. Finally, the Government has introduced a national pollinator monitoring scheme with trend estimates published annually, and advice and guidance is also provided to landowners and the public through the Bees’ Needs campaign.

Finally, during the recent debate on this issue, the Minister outlined the overall position in relation to the use of neonicotinoids - here

Thank you once again for contacting me.

Sincerely,

RF Sig

Richard Fuller MP