Environmental campaigners are lobbying the EU to close “loopholes” that allow the use of banned neonicotinoid pesticides in emergency situations to alleviate pest or disease pressure on crops.
Green non-governmental organisations claim 13 EU countries are trying to undermine the total ban on neonics by applying for “emergency authorisations”.
Almost 100,000 people have signed an online petition by SumOfUs, which demands the EU scraps rules which allow member states to apply for exemptions from the ban on neonicotinoids.
In April, the European Commission (EC) announced a Europe-wide ban on three major neonicotinoid insecticides – imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam – after the European Food Safety Authority concluded these chemicals posed a risk to bees.
The UK government voted in favour of the EU’s proposal, despite strong opposition from farming unions, including the NFU, which maintains a ban is not justified by the evidence.
When the EC introduced its first ban on neonics in December 2013 for use on flowering crops, such as oilseed rape and sunflowers, it left the door open for member states to apply for derogations to use these pesticides in emergency pest or disease situations.
For the past three years, the NFU has applied to Defra for emergency use of neonics on oilseed rape in parts of the country where cabbage stem flea beetle populations – a major OSR pest – are high.
The union’s applications were successful on one occasion, in 2015 when Defra agreed neonics could be used on 30,000ha (11%) of England’s OSR crop.
When EU announced its total ban on the use of neonics in April, the sugar beet industry expressed huge disappointment.
British Sugar warned extending the ban to cover beet crops risked harming sugar beet yields and many growers would resort to using insecticide sprays, such as pyrethroids, which are potentially worse for the environment.
‘No alternatives’ for beet
Growers insist neonics are a vital part of protecting the establishing sugar beet crop, mainly against the aphid-spread beet yellow virus, which can reduce yields by 25-50%.
An industry source told Farmers Weekly: “If the mechanism for emergency use authorisations is lost, then there would be no chance of the sugar beet industry applying for a derogation for use this spring.”
The EC held a meeting with member state representatives on Thursday (19 July) to scrutinise the use of “emergency authorisations” of pesticides.
Several member states, including Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Hungary, Finland, Latvia and Estonia, have repeatedly granted emergency authorisations for neonics for use on major crops.