The UK Government has received a legal challenge over its recent decision to lift a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, a substance previously banned across the EU, in order to combat crop disease.
The Government have said that its use will be sparing and is viewed as an emergency measure in order to combat drastic fall in sugar beet harvests, caused by the beet yellows virus spread by aphids.
Since the inception of the original ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in 2018, the UK has reportedly only yielded one full outdoor sugar beet harvest. According to the NFU, there are 3000 farmers that grow sugar beet and around 9,500 jobs in England supported by the industry, so the concern for the crop yield is of genuine importance to the national economy.
Neonicotinoids used to be seen as a good alternative to traditional pesticides as they are systemic, meaning they are absorbed by the plant and are added to the seeds as a coating and not sprayed directly onto crops.
However, they were originally banned due to their harm to pollinating insects such as bees. Bees, and other pollinating insects, are an integral part of our ecosystem and are already under threat of dwindling numbers, so their protection is a large point of concern when environmental legislation is discussed. Not only this, but they are also harmful to aquatic life as it leaches into the soil and then into water supplies.
While several hundred thousand people have signed an online petition against the reinstatement of the pesticide, the government and NFU remain confident that ‘sparing’ use of the pesticide is the best way forward to maintain a sugar beet harvest, regardless of the risks to bee population numbers and biodiversity.
Then-Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, said at the time of the original EU ban that restrictions would be maintained post-Brexit unless the evidence of their harmfulness changed. The government are now saying that they have changed their standing on the policy based on new scientific evidence regarding the pesticide, however they are yet to make these new findings public.