Sugar growers reject ‘secret’ lobbying jibe

Farm leaders have rejected accusations that they are secretly lobbying the government to allow banned pesticides on sugar beet seed.

It comes after environmentalist George Monbiot accused the NFU of campaigning “behind closed doors” to use neonicotinoid treated seed.

See also: Plea for emergency seed treatment to save sugar beet

An emergency use application for farmers to use Cruiser SB sugar beet seed in 2021 was submitted after growers saw crops devastated by virus yellows disease.

The NFU said the application was specifically for sugar beet growers to use neonicotinoid-treated seed in a limited and controlled way on the non-flowering crop.

The application was on the agenda to be discussed at a meeting of the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) on 24 November.

Independent advice

At the time, the application was reported by Farmers Weekly and other media.

The ECP provides independent advice to the government on pesticides – including neonicotinoids, which are banned over concerns that they kill pollinators.

The NFU asked growers to support the application for farmers to use the chemicals by signing a letter explaining the impact of virus yellows on their crops.

NFU Sugar asked farmers to encourage other beet growers to sign the letter before it was sent to Defra secretary George Eustice.

But it added: “We’d ask that you refrain from making this letter public – we believe it will have a stronger impact on the secretary of state if kept out of the public domain.”


Mr Monbiot accused the NFU of being deceitful – and trying to undermine democracy through secretive and dirty lobbying.

“This is massive, and horrific,” he said. The NFU was secretly lobbying the government to allow neonicotinoid pesticides to be reintroduced after Brexit.

“In public, the NFU claims to be defending our food and farming standards from a US trade deal,” said Mr Monbiot.

“In private, it’s secretly using Brexit as an opportunity to undermine them.” He added: “It seeks to stitch us up behind closed doors.”

NFU response

In response, NFU Sugar chairman Michael Sly said only sugar beet growers were invited to sign the letter because of the specific nature of the application.

“This was the reason the letter was not forwarded or circulated to a wider group.

“Virus Yellows disease is having an unprecedented harmful impact on Britain’s sugar beet crop this year, with some growers experiencing yield losses of up to 80%.

“There are currently no other effective protections against this disease and there are serious concerns about the future viability of home-grown sugar as a result.”

Mr Sly added: “The application was not made in secret, in fact it was reported on in the media three weeks ago.”

The application was made under EU legislation and was similar to those granted in other EU countries and was unrelated to Brexit or future UK regulations, he said.

“The seed treatment would only be used if and when the threat of virus yellows disease in 2021 is independently judged to meet the scientific threshold for action.”

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