The UK government has reissued emergency authorization for pesticides banned due to the damage they can cause to bees.
The use of neonicotinoid on sugar beet seeds was authorized to protect crops from a particularly damaging aphid-borne virus.
The authorization was issued against the opinion of an independent expert panel on pesticides.
Campaign group Friends of the Earth described the move as “incredibly cheeky”.
But Michael Sly, chairman of NFU Sugar’s board of directors, welcomed the decision, saying he was “relief”.
“British sugar beet crops continue to be threatened by viral hepatitis disease, which has caused crop losses of up to 80% in recent years. The country’s sugar industry is working hard to find cost-effective, long-term solutions to this disease,” he said.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said strict conditions would apply and the pesticide – a seed treatment called thiamethoxam – would only be allowed to be used if independent modeling predicted a hepatitis virus prevalence of 63% or higher.
If this threshold is reached and pesticides are used, other conditions will minimize the risk to the environment.
The general ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides remains in place.
Agriculture Minister Mark Spencer said the emergency authorization was taken after “careful consideration” and as an “essential measure to protect the industry”.
The decision was made on the advice of the Health and Safety Authority (HSE), the UK’s independent Committee of Pesticides Experts (ECP) and Defra’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Gideon Henderson.
However, the ECP did not support the permit, saying “In light of the risk assessment carried out, there may be a reduction in honey bee survival and an impact on homing capability (which also affects forager survival).”
The HSE also said the threat to bees feeding on pollen and nectar from flowering crops planted in treated sugar beet fields is a “potential concern”.
But Professor Henderson said this could be remedied by insisting on a minimum 32-month period before planting a flowering plant.
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 especially to pollinators, including bees.”
In issuing the permit, the minister acknowledged that there was still “a certain degree of uncertainty about the risks to bees”.
Despite the pesticide not normally being approved for use, this is the third year the government has issued an emergency permit.
Sandra Bell of Friends of the Earth described the decision as “incredibly brazen”, adding: “The government has gone directly against the advice of its own scientific advisers, with potentially disastrous consequences for bees and other important 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 permanently.”
The UK decision comes just days after the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that EU member states cannot offer exceptions to the EU ban on crop seeds treated with neonicotinoids.