Neonicotinoids - A Subject of Contention

Posted in: feedstocks

The UK Government recently granted emergency authorisation to use neonicotinoids to treat sugar beet seed.

On 8th January 2021, the UK government published a decision to issue – with strict conditions – emergency authorisation to use neonicotinoids to treat sugar beet seed. Neonicotinoids are a class of chemicals used as insecticides and are used to protect several crops. In particular, to protect sugar beet against a type of sugar beet virus spread by aphids which has decimated yields. It’s often referred to as ‘virus yellows’ as a generic term for what could be multiple similar viruses, due to the yellowing of the leaves it causes.

It has been recognized for a number of years that the use of neonicotinoids is likely contributing to the decimation of insect populations, including bees.

Insects perform vital roles in our ecosystem. As well as being key pollinators, they are food for numerous animals further up the food chain, but insect populations have suffered drastically in the past few decades. Populations are declining and many are threatened with extinction. There are multiple reasons for this. Climate change and habitat loss disrupt bee behaviour, as well as widespread pesticide use, with neonicotinoids shown to be a particularly harmful class of chemical.

Ideally, as an alternative to harmful pesticides, more support is given to farmers to find alternative means of agricultural practises which support nature. In the longer term, undoubtedly plant scientists will develop new solutions, but these are a few years off.

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This article was written by Polly-Ann Hanson, Research Analyst at NNFCC.

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