A different kind of virus

12 Jan

Our attention has been drawn to news reported in The Guardian that England, along with ten other countries including Belgium, Denmark and Spain, has approved the “emergency” use of the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam on sugar beet crops. This was in response to lobbying from the National Farmers Union and British Sugar in response to the treat of – yes – a virus (virus yellows disease).

When Britain, as part of the EU, agreed to ban all outdoor use of thiamethoxam, Michael Gove, then Environment Secretary, stated “The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment” and that “Unless the evidence base changes again, the government will keep these restrictions in place after we have left the EU.” A similar application was rejected in 2018 on the grounds that government advisers stated it would “cause unacceptable effects to bees in flowering crops and flowering plants in field margins” and would risk “adversely impacting populations of aquatic insects”.

But yet this chemical has now been approved as sugar beet yields are estimated to drop by up to 25% on previous years. The rejected proposed use of the pesticide to protect beet crops in the east of England in 2018 was estimated by the government to be worth about £18m. So now we can work out the monetary gain for which it is worth damaging insect life in our waterways.

Although this use of thiamethoxam appears to be restricted to East Anglia, and therefore should not directly affect our area, we should keep a very careful eye open for similar relaxation on the regulation of similar poisons and pollutants.