By David Appleton and anonymous in GLD Challenge magazine 2021
guardian reports that neonicotinoid will not be authorised in UK in 2021
Wed 3 Mar 2021 06.00 GMT
Bee-killing' pesticide now will not be used on UK sugar beet fields
Government gave emergency authorisation to a neonicotinoid earlier this year - but says chemical was not needed
THE GOVERNMENT'S DEROGATION ON THE USE OF NEONICOTINOID PESTICIDE ON SUGAR BEET CROPS IN 2021: TWO POINTS OF VIEW.
The Government has given farmers a derogation (temporary lifting of a ban) on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides ('neonics') on sugar beet for 2021. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the British Beekeepers' Association, amongst others, have expressed dismay at the Government's decision. So here we provide some background and the personal views of two North Suffolk Lib Dem members - an arable farmer, and a former beekeeper who is also a bumblebee conservationist - in an attempt to generate a balanced debate on the merits (or otherwise) of the derogation.
Neonics have been banned in the UK/EU since 2017/2018 due to, "…the growing weight of scientific evidence they are harmful to bees and other pollinators. This followed advice from the_UK government's advisory body on pesticides_which said scientific evidence now suggests the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoids - particularly to our bees and pollinators - are greater than previously understood, supporting the case for further restrictions" (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/further-restrictions-on-neonicotinoids-agreed). Neonics affect the central nervous system of insects (particularly bees), causing paralysis and death.
In 2017, the then Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, said: "I have set out our vision for a Green Brexit in which environmental standards are not only maintained but enhanced…..I've always been clear I will be led by the science on this matter. The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood. I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk" (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/environment-secretary-backs-further-restrictions-on-neonicotinoid-pesticides).
Recently, however, the Government has bowed to pressure from the National Farmers Union and agreed to authorise the use of the neonicotinoid 'Thiamethoxam' on sugar beet in 2021. A similar application was refused in 2018 by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides because of unacceptable environmental risks. The EU have implemented the same derogation for Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France and Germany.
The derogation has been allowed because of the threat posed by 'Virus Yellows'. This is a complex of three viruses - Beet Mild Yellowing Virus (BMYV) and Beet Chlorosis Virus (BChV) which are closely related, together with a third virus, Beet Yellows Virus (BYV). These viruses are transmitted to young sugar beet plants when aphids feed on their new growth. These can reduce crop yields by up to 80%.
Britain's first sugar beet crop was grown and processed in Norfolk over 100 years ago. Today the homegrown sugar industry involves 3,000 sugar beet growers and supports up to 9,500 UK jobs in the wider economy. UK beet production occupies approximately 100,000 hectares of UK farmland, which is only 0.57% of the agricultural land and 0.41% of the total UK land area.
Sugar beet grown in the UK_meets approximately 50% of the country's demand for sugar. In 2017/18, the UK also produced over 300,000 tonnes of sugar for export. Sugar beet is cultivated, on average, 28 miles from the UK's four British Sugar plc factories. UK-produced sugar travels an average distance of 168 miles from beet to bulk delivery point at the sites of UK customers [Countryside on line / Back British Farming].
The farmer's view:
Rothamsted Research (formerly the Institute of Arable Crops Research) has assessed that, due to the mild winter (widely accepted to be a consequence of climate change), the aphid population is sufficiently large and carrying enough of the 'virus yellows' beet virus to justify the derogation, which is for 2021 only.
Applications will have strict conditions to seek to ensure that wildlife is not harmed: it allows dressing of sugar beet seeds (only) with Thiamethoxam, and proposes applying herbicides when the beet crop is growing, to kill off wildflowers/weeds that grow within the sugar beet crop, as these will have absorbed the neonic pesticide from the soil. This will prevent insects feeding on them and so prevent them being affected by the neonic.
Bees pick up neonics from treated plants by drinking the water droplets that exude from the growing plants as they warm up in the morning. Bees generally do not go into sugar beet crops because they have no flowers, being biannual - the flower would come in the second year, but the plants are harvested at the end of the first year, so this is never an issue. Furthermore, the derogation stipulates that no flowering crop may be planted on the same field within 22 months from sowing the treated beet, and no oil seed rape crop (which bees would certainly visit) may be planted within 32 months, again with a view to protecting pollinators from the accumulation of neonic residues from the sugar beet seed.
The International Confederation of European Beet Growers contends that seed treatments on sugar beet have 'little or no effect' on non-target invertebrates within the soil (CIBE statement, Brussels, 2nd April 2018, quoting a 2001 study).
On this basis, there is an argument that the derogation is reasonable, to protect farmers' yields on sugar beet crops, as farmers are required to take measures to protect bees and other insects from coming into contact with neonic-affected flowers.
There is a known case in 2020 of a farmer who sprayed his fields of beet three times with other (non-neonic) types of aphicide sprays and who still had a 25% reduction in yield.
Sugar beet is planted in a 4 - 6 year rotation with other crops, and benefits other crops in rotation. In the spring and summer, beet crops can provide good bird habitat. Approximately 20% of the harvested beet coverts to sugar, with the residue being used for animal feeds, and toiletries including hand sanitizer.
Farmers view the use of neonics now as a purely temporary measure, as a bridge to neonic-free sugar sources: this requires further research to develop more resistant beet strains. Until then, only the best farmers will be able to manage to carry on growing sugar beet and meet their likely commitments to the new 25 year plan for Agriculture and the Environment.
Meanwhile, importing sugar from, say, Brazil or the Caribbean is not considered a better option. In terms of overall carbon impact, sugar cane consumed in the UK/EU has a higher impact than UK/EU grown beet, driven by transportation, with 45-60% of the emissions from cane sugar in the EU from transport (Klenk, Landquist and de Imana, 2012).
Water use (5,200 m3 per hectare for sugar cane compared to 40m3 for sugar beet) and chemical inputs (particularly nitrogen) are both greater for sugar cane than for sugar beet (Renouf et al., 2008). Soil erosion is also significant for sugar cane as well as beet and the production of cane also involves turning over new land to the crop, whereas beet tends to be farmed on existing agricultural land.
Therefore, any reductions in UK sugar beet consumption need to ensure that they do not significantly drive up imports which would only serve to 'offshore' environmental impacts.
The conservationist's view:
The UK/EU ban on the use of neonics was based on mounting evidence that they have seriously detrimental effects on pollinator populations, which are vitally important to agriculture and ecosystems. The majority of flowering plants are pollinated by insects and a large proportion of our food relies on pollinators to some degree, including many fruits, vegetables and nuts - and even coffee.
Prof. Dave Goulson has released research which indicates that neonics also have serious effects on a whole range of life, from birds to earthworms, mammals and aquatic insects - so the issue goes beyond bees. Dressing of seeds with neonics results in only 5% of the pesticide going where it is targeted, in the crop: the rest is accumulated in the soil, from where it can be absorbed by the roots of wildflowers and hedgerow plants, and leach into watercourses, harming invertebrates (https://www.flipsnack. com/devonwildlifetrust/insect-declines/full-view.html). Thus the impact of neonics will very probably be felt far beyond the 0.57% area of agricultural land to which it may be applied.
Neonics are estimated to be 10,000 times more toxic than DDT, causing rapid paralysis and death. Four_nanograms of neonicotinoid kills half of all the honeybees that feed on it: a bee has to only eat one_gram of pollen or 2.6 millilitres of nectar from treated plants to reach this threshold (https://thewire.in.environment/neonics-bees-colony-collapse-clothianidin).
There is a risk that the current derogation will be the 'thin end of the wedge', and will make further, more far-reaching derogations, easier to justify - with no guarantee that the current derogation will be purely temporary measure, or a bridge to neonic-free sugar sources, especially given the loss of so many of the UK's agricultural research infrastructure under recent Governments. It may also reduce pressure on farmers to move towards Integrated Pest Management (IPM) systems (a longer-term ecosystem-based strategy using a combination of methods such as biological control, different growing methods and developing resistant varieties).
(Many flea and tick treatments for dogs and cats also contain neonics, which can be released into water when they swim in ponds and rivers (https://www.flipsnack.com/ devonwildlifetrust/insect-declines/full-view.html)).
Therefore, rather than giving the derogation, the Government should consider a compensation scheme for farmers who suffer a loss of yield due to Virus Yellows, whilst encouraging and acceleration in the pace of research and movement to IPM systems.
Furthermore, it is generally accepted that we eat too much refined sugar, which is detrimental to health and has little nutritional value - hence the recent campaigns against sugary drinks and the Government's 'sugar tax' (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/soft-drinks-industry-levy-comes-into-effect). Whilst recognising that sugar beet is a valuable crop for our farmers and refiners, the impact on human health and the consequent costs (e.g., NHS treatment costs) are externalized from the farmers and refiners and placed on to the wider tax-paying population. A reduction in national consumption of refined sugar would not only have significant health benefits and reduce the burden on NHS resources and tax payers, but enable land currently used for sugar beet to be used for more nutritional crops and/or for environmental schemes: more trees, hedgerows and grass margins to help tackle climate change and loss of biodiversity - and enable bees and other insects to thrive.
In addition, the significant damage to farmland caused by sugar beet harvesting, done in autumn when the land is usually wet and is badly 'cut up' by the harvesters, would be reduced, in turn reducing the inputs required to prepare the land for the next crop.
The views expressed above do not comprise Liberal Democrat policy or the views of the party, and are solely the personal views of two members expressed with the intention of providing a basis for debate and a balanced consideration of the Government's derogation.
David Appleton and anonymous