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.
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
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