The UK government has again granted an emergency permit for the use of a type of pesticide that has been banned for harming bees.
Permission to use a neonicotinoid on sugar beet seeds has been granted to protect the crop from a particularly harmful virus spread by aphids.
The permit was granted without the recommendation of an independent panel of pesticide experts.
The Friends of the Earth campaign group described the move as “incredibly brazen”.
But NFU Sugar chairman of the board, Michael Sly, welcomed the decision, saying he was “relaxed”.
“The British sugar beet crop continues to be threatened by yellow virus disease, which has caused crop losses of up to 80% in recent years. The home grown sugar industry is working hard to find viable, long-term solutions to this disease.”
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that stringent conditions would be in place and that the pesticide, a seed treatment called thiamethoxam, could only be used if independent modeling estimated the incidence of a yellow virus to be 63% or above.
If that threshold is met and pesticides are used, other conditions minimize risks to the environment, he said.
A general ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides is in effect.
Agriculture Minister Mark Spencer said the emergency permit was taken after “careful consideration” and as a “necessary measure to protect the industry”.
The decision was made on the advice of the Health and Safety Administration (HSE), the independent UK Pesticides Expert Committee (ECP) and Defra’s own Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Gideon Henderson.
However, the ECP did not support the authorization, saying, “In light of the risk assessment performed, a reduction in honey bee survival rates and effects on target flight ability (which also affects foragers survival) may occur.”
HSE also said the risks posed by bees collecting pollen and nectar from flowering crops planted in fields after processed sugar beet are “a potential concern”.
However, Professor Henderson said this can be overcome by insisting on a minimum period of 32 months before a flowering crop can be planted.
In his advice, he also said: “There is clear and abundant evidence that these neonicotinoids are harmful to species other than those they are intended to control, and to pollinators, including bees in particular.”
In giving permission, the minister acknowledged that there was “still some degree of uncertainty regarding the risks to bees”.
Although the pesticide is not normally approved for use, this is the third year the government has issued an emergency permit.
Sandra Bell of Friends of the Earth called the decision “incredibly arrogant”, adding: “The government has directly opposed the advice of its own scientific advisers, with potentially devastating consequences for bees and other vital pollinators.
“The health of all of us and the planet depends on their survival. The government must fulfill its duty to protect wildlife and keep pesticides out of our crops forever.”
The UK’s decision comes just days after the European Court of Justice said EU member states would not be able to provide an exemption from the bloc’s ban on crop seeds treated with neonicotinoids.