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West Norfolk MP backs pesticide rule change, despite Greta Thunberg criticism

South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss has backed plans for a temporary relaxation of the rules relating to pesticide use, which have been criticised by the environmental activist, Greta Thunberg.

The row relates to the use of materials that contain a compound called neonicotinoid, which are known to be harmful to bees.

DEFRA this week announced the emergency authorisation for the use of a neonicotinoid for the treatment of sugar beet.

Campaigners are concerned that the relaxation of rules relating to the use of pesticides may do more harm to the bee population.
Campaigners are concerned that the relaxation of rules relating to the use of pesticides may do more harm to the bee population.

The move follows considerable concern among beet producers and sugar manufacturers that the crop would be devastated by the yellows virus if action was not taken.

A number of other measures had been implemented by farmers to try stop the spread of the virus but these have had minimal impact.

Miss Thunberg took to social media to criticise the decision, posting on Twitter: “New coal mines and pesticides so poisonous they are banned in the EU, the UK’s Green Revolution is getting off to a great start- very credible indeed."

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg (43791147)
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg (43791147)

But Ms Truss defended the move, saying: “This is a concern that sugar beet farmers have raised with me across the constituency and an issue I pressed DEFRA ministers on.

"The emergency authorisation is for short term use and will be time limited and controlled. I joined farmers in Wereham last year and saw first hand the damage done by insect pests and the viruses they transmit, with the sugar beet yields in 2020 significantly reduced.

"Some farmers have reported an 80 per cent loss of crop. If no action was taken in 2021, then farmers would be facing a similar issue this year.

"Cultivation of sugar beet is particularly high in East Anglia with three large factories processing the crop, the largest in Europe is at Wissington in my constituency – it is therefore incredibly important to the local economy as well as the significant export revenues it generates.”

Liz Truss MP. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2020.
Liz Truss MP. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2020.

Peter Watson, agriculture director at British Sugar said: “The British beet sugar industry applied for emergency authorisation to use a targeted neonicotinoid seed treatment for the 2021 sugar beet crop as a last resort, after the extreme and unprecedented impact of Virus Yellows disease, which is spread by aphids, on the 2020 crop.

“Supporting bee populations is extremely important to us and our growers and having the right controls to ensure this was key to the application.

“The treatment is applied to the seed before it is sown – it is not a spray. It will be used in an extremely limited and controlled way on the 2021 sugar beet crop, which is non-flowering, and only if a pre-determined, independent aphid forecast threshold is met in February.

Michael de Whalley.
Michael de Whalley.

“The emergency authorisation brings the UK into line with 13 EU countries which have already granted similar derogations for neonicotinoid seed treatments to be used for this year’s sugar beet crop.”

But Green Party borough councillor Michael de Whalley said the insect population had been declining for decades and beekeepers had known the problem posed by the compounds for a long time.

He said: "Pollinators provide an extraordinary service for us as humans, and biodiversity of insects is vital for the environment. It services a whole food chain.

"The use of such pesticides will not only affect humans but has the potential to move up to larger animals.

"British Sugar claims its staff care about bees. If you care about bees you shouldn't be using these pesticides.

"While it might be more financially viable for sugar beet growers to have a greater crop yield, the cost saved from their loss has shifted onto other farmers and beekeepers who depend on pollination, so we have to consider the bigger picture."

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