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Concerns over 'bee-killing' pesticide in Suffolk: What people have to say




Concerns have been raised about the use of a ‘bee-killing’ pesticide.

The Government has authorised the use of neonicotinoid, believed to kill bees, for emergency use on sugar beet seeds because of the threat to crops posed by virus yellows.

It follows lobbying from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and British Sugar who say other methods to control the virus have so far failed.

Farmers could be facing an 80 per cent crop loss according to trade secretary, Liz Truss.
Farmers could be facing an 80 per cent crop loss according to trade secretary, Liz Truss.

Suffolk Beekeepers Association says it is ‘extremely disappointed and concerned’ and the move ‘can only be seen as a backward step'.

The concerns were echoed by Mid-Suffolk Green Party councillor Andy Mellen.

British Sugar, one of the lobbying groups, said: “It will be used in an extremely limited and controlled way. The emergency authorisation brings the UK into line with 13 EU countries."

While trade secretary and South West Norfolk MP, Liz Truss, points out the importance of sugar beet to East Anglia.

Here is what they had to say:

Michael Sly, chair of the National Farmers Union sugar board

I am relieved that our application for emergency use of a neonicotinoid seed treatment for the 2021 sugar beet crop has been granted.

Any treatment will be used in a limited and controlled way on sugar beet – a non-flowering crop – and only when the scientific threshold has been independently judged to have been met.

Virus Yellows disease is having an unprecedented impact on Britain’s sugar beet crop, with some growers experiencing yield losses of up to 80 per cent, and this authorisation is desperately needed to fight this disease. It will be crucial in ensuring that Britain’s sugar beet growers continue to have viable farm businesses.

The sector continues to work as quickly as possible to find long-term solutions to virus yellows disease.

If the product is used, only cereals can be planted within 22 months of the sugar beet crop being planted and no oilseed rape crop can be planted for 32 months

There are fears the pesticide could harm the UK's population
There are fears the pesticide could harm the UK's population

Peter Watson, agriculture director, British Sugar

The British beet sugar industry applied for emergency authorisation to use a targeted neonicotinoid seed treatment for the 2021 sugar beet crop as a last resort, after the extreme and unprecedented impact of Virus Yellows disease, which is spread by aphids, on the 2020 crop.

Some growers have sadly seen their yields destroyed by as much as 80% as a result of Virus Yellows this season.

Supporting bee populations is extremely important to us and our growers and having the right controls to ensure this was key to the application.

The treatment is applied to the seed before it is sown – it is not a spray. It will be used in an extremely limited and controlled way on the 2021 sugar beet crop, which is non-flowering, and only if a pre-determined, independent aphid forecast threshold is met in February.

The emergency authorisation brings the UK into line with 13 EU countries which have already granted similar derogations for neonicotinoid seed treatments to be used for this year’s sugar beet crop.

Across the homegrown beet sugar industry, we are progressing clear plans to tackle Virus Yellows without neonicotinoids, including through research and development to improve natural resistance in the crop.

Alan Seager, chair of Suffolk Beekeepers Association

Suffolk Beekeepers are extremely disappointed and concerned at the recent announcement by the Government that it is giving emergency authorisation for the short term use of a neonicotinoid seed treatment, thiomethoxam.

At a time of growing public awareness of the importance of insects to our planet’s sustainability, and particularly of the importance of pollinators to our own food chain, this can only be seen as a backward step

There are certain controls in place within the legislation on the use of the pesticide that should be recognised and followed including its use only if the virus reaches a threshold level and then only at a reduced rate of application.

We consider, however, that the proposed uses of herbicides to reduce flowering weeds among the sugar beet crop, will only contribute further damage to the environment generally

It is worrying that the authorisation may continue for two more years and it is hoped that any such decision will be discussed more fully, and openly, before being implemented.

We feel this especially since the farming press in the autumn, did not indicate any more dramatic effects on the sugar beet crop in 2020, when compared with a range of other crops, all struggling with an exceptionally difficult year from difficult weather conditions.

The industry is 'working quickly' to find alternatives to neonicotinoid, say the NFU
The industry is 'working quickly' to find alternatives to neonicotinoid, say the NFU

Sam Hanks, Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s farmland wildlife advisor

The decline of insects is one of the most worrying threats to our wildlife, and the research on the use of neonicotinoids is unequivocal – using these seed treatments is harmful for insects beyond the boundary of the treated crop, even with the DEFRA recommended limitations to crop rotation, principally through soil and water contamination.

We need to see better, ecologically based solutions at the forefront of controlling virus yellows and building overall resistance to future threats to this crop without resorting to neonicotinoids.

We’d like to see all of Suffolk’s farms help reverse wildlife declines by ensuring that they maintain abundant, varied and high-quality natural habitat throughout their farmed area.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust work with many farms across the county to achieve this, and our farmland wildlife advice is available for free.”

Andy Mellen, Mid-Suffolk Green Party councillor

I am disappointed by the DEFRA decision to allow neonicotinoid seed treatment on sugar beet- though I welcome the strict limits imposed on its use.

Bizarrely, this decision emerged the same day as Boris Johnson and Environment minister Zac Goldsmith were trumpeting the UK’s concern for biodiversity at a global conference in Paris.

I’m aware that beet growers in East Anglia have suffered significant yield reductions in the 2020 crop partly due to virus yellows, though I suspect that the extreme weather last year also played a role – highly stressed plants are much more susceptible to disease.

As a farmer and beekeeper myself I am concerned about the re-introduction of this pesticide, which has proven ill-effects on invertebrates.Whilst bees do not feed directly on beet, the chemical can be absorbed from the soil by other plants and affect a range of insects.

Whilst I’m not aware that we have any global shortage of sugar, we do certainly have a shortage of insects, many of which are in calamitous decline.

People should remember that we need those insects to pollinate many of our crops.

British Sugar's factory in Bury St Edmunds. Picture by Mecha Morton
British Sugar's factory in Bury St Edmunds. Picture by Mecha Morton

Liz Truss, trade secretary and South West Norfolk MP,

This is a concern that sugar beet farmers have raised with me across the constituency and an issue I pressed DEFRA ministers on.

The emergency authorisation is for short term use and will be time limited and controlled.

I joined farmers in Wereham last year and saw first hand the damage done by insect pests and the viruses they transmit, with the sugar beet yields in 2020 significantly reduced.

Some farmers have reported an 80 per cent loss of crop.

If no action was taken in 2021, then farmers would be facing a similar issue this year. Cultivation of sugar beet is particularly high in East Anglia with three large factories processing the crop, the largest in Europe is at Wissington in my South West Norfolk constituency – it is therefore incredibly important to the local economy as well as the significant export revenues it generates.

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