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Almost one-third of all oilseed rape in the UK could be treated with a banned insecticide if the government grants an “emergency” exemption to the pesticide manufacturer Syngenta, it has emerged.
The company's pesticide was one of three neonicitinoid pesticdes banned for two years last year.
“Syngenta has made this emergency use application on behalf of UK farmers for a limited use of neonicotinoid seed treatment in two specific contexts where alternative approaches are not effective and a danger to production exists,” said a company spokesman. He noted that the application was supported by the government’s Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP), which confirmed the criteria for authorisation had been met. “Given this assessment we urge the government to support farmers and allow limited use this season.”
Syngenta argues that seed treatments with neonicotinoids are needed to protect rape sown by mid-August from aphid damage and crops in areas where flea beetle pressure is historically high. It says there are no available alternatives. The exemption would allow up to 186,000 hectares of oilseed rape – 30% of the total crop area – to be planted with seeds treated with the insecticide. Bayer, another major neonicotinoid manufacturer, is not applying for an exemption.
The news of Syngenta’s application comes a day after an international scientific review concluded there was “clear evidence of [neonicotinoid] harm sufficient to trigger regulatory action”. Neonicotinoids are the world’s most widely used insecticide and the panel said contamination was so pervasive it threatened global food production.
“If the UK Government permits this derogation it will be ignoring the strong and quickly growing body of scientific evidence which points to the damaging impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on pollinating insects, including bumblebees and honey bees,” says the Soil Association’s Emma Hockridge. “Saving the bee is something the UK public rightly feel very strongly about. There are a range of methods which farmers can use which do not require the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Organic farmers use a system of production which has strong benefits for pollinator populations – a recent meta-analysis from Oxford University showed on average, non-organic farms have 48% more species of pollinators than non-organic farms.”
The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the ACP all opposed the EU neonicotinoid ban, arguing there was insufficient proof of harm. The Bee Coalition of eight UK NGOs said it regarded Syngenta’s request as a deliberate attempt to undermine the EU ban, which Syngenta is also challenging in court.
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