Government seeks to avert crisis for sugar beet farmers

21 January 2021 | Muriel Cozier

‘Growers, researchers and scientists alike are already working hard to find alternative ways of controlling Virus Yellows.’

The UK Government’s Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has granted an application for emergency authorisation allowing the use of an insecticide containing the neonicotinoid, thiamethoxam, for treating sugar beet seed in 2021.

The Government said that the decision was taken in recognition of the potential danger posed to the 2021 sugar beet crop from Virus Yellows. The authorisation was granted following advice from the Health and Safety Executive, the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides and Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser.

During 2018, as a member of the European Union, the Government gave its support to rules prohibiting the outdoor use of three neonicotinoids, as they were found to be detrimental to the bee population. However, the government said at the time that it would consider emergency authorisations in special circumstances where limited and controlled use appeared necessary.

When the ban on the use of neonicotinoids was put in place, sugar beet growers said that there were no sustainable alternatives for protecting their crops. The case for the emergency use of Syngenta’s Cruiser SB, in England, was prepared by British Sugar, NFU Sugar and the British Beet Research Organisation.

The Government’s authorisation has been met with concern form several quarters including the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. The new UK-EU Trade Agreement includes non-regression on environmental standards.

Issuing a statement this week; Minette Batters, President of the UK’s National Farmers Union said that along with covid-19, weather and ‘additional pest pressure’, the extreme impact of Virus Yellows disease had caused sugar beet yields to ‘plummet.’

‘Unfortunately UK growers currently have no other way of controlling the aphids that cause this disease, and there is no treatment for Virus Yellows once a crop is infected,’ Batters said. ‘NFU Sugar applied for the emergency use of a specific neonicotinoid for this year’s sugar beet crop because there is a crisis and there is no current alternative.’ Batters added ‘Growers, researchers and scientists alike are already working hard to find alternative ways of controlling Virus Yellows.’

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