Thank you for contacting me about the emergency approval of the use of neonicotinoids by sugar beet farmers. I am an active member of the Conservative Environmental Network and have been working to promote conservation and decarbonisation and I share your concerns for the environment. This is a complicated issue and one that I have spoken to several people about.
- This emergency approval is given on a temporary basis for the limited use of a neonicotinoid seed treatment on the 2021 sugar beet crop while the beet industry develops alternative solutions, such as virus resistant crops. The seed treatment means it is not vulnerable to predation by aphids which spread beet yellows virus. 2020 yields are forecast to be down by 20-25% as a result of this virus. In the UK, sugar beet is not a flowering crop and it is generally used as part of a crop rotation plan, being grown every 4-6 years as a break crop between others such as cereals, potatoes and barley.
- The UK sugar industry grows 50% of the UK sugar requirements, with 50% being imported. It supports 9,500 jobs, creates almost zero waste from processing and produces enough electricity to power 170,000 homes. Should we lose the UK sugar beet industry we would need to import our requirements from countries that have already approved emergency use of the neonicotinoid, including many EU countries, or from countries that grow sugar cane where labour practices and environmental laws are weaker. Once an industry is lost, it is rarely replaced – Ireland’s last sugar beet factory closed in 2006 and it is now totally dependent on imports.
- There are several conditions for authorisation of use of the neonicotinoid. These include a reduced application rate, a prohibition on any flowering crop being planted in the same field within 22 months of sugar beet and a ban on oilseed rape being planted within 32 months of sugar beet.
- The Government is committed to raising environmental standards. It is currently consulting on the draft National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides which sets out the ambition to further reduce risks and impacts of pesticides to human health and the environment. Protecting pollinators is a priority for this Government. The National Pollinator Strategy is a 10 year plan which sets out how Government, conservation groups, farmers, beekeepers and researchers can work together to improve the status of pollinating insects in England. In addition, this week the Government announced £3 billion for climate change solutions that protect and restore nature and biodiversity over the next 5 years and in 2020 we committed to protect at least 30% of the land and ocean by 2030.
I will continue to monitor this situation and do everything I can to ensure that this is a one off approval for the 2021 season. Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.