Silver Spoon brand-owner lobbies for reintroduction of bee-harming pesticide

England has authorised the use of a pesticide believed to kill bees, despite an EU ban, following lobbying from British Sugar and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU). The EU banned use of most neonicotinoids on outdoor crops in 2018 after widespread campaigning highlighted the danger to declining bee populations. 

Thiamethoxam has been approved for emergency use on sugar beet seeds. The NFU and British Sugar lobbied for the emergency authorisation in light of a widespread virus said to be threatening the UK’s sugar beet crop. 

Greenpeace has called the decision “short-sighted and dangerous”. A third of all bee populations - which help in the pollination of apples, beans, squashes and other crops grown in the UK - are in decline, according to the campaign organisation. 

Consumers angered by the company’s lobbying may want to avoid Silver Spoon, British Sugar’s main sugar brand, until the company changes its approach. If you are choosing to stear clear, it’s always good to let the company know.

Silver Spoon have a contact form on their website as well as a Twitter account (@BritishSugar).

The government approval was given despite clear commitments from then environment secretary Michael Gove in 2018. At the time, Gove stated:

“The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood … We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.”

The pesticide that creates risk for insect populations

Scientists suggest that thiamethoxam weakens bee’s immune systems, harms the development of baby bees’ brains and can leave them unable to fly.

Studies have found that significant declines in some British bee populations coincided with the introduction of the pesticide, which was widely used before the 2018 ban. 

Campaigners now accuse the government of “opening the backdoor to pollinator poisons”, pointing to the fact that the ‘emergency authorisation’ could last for up to two years. Organisations also point out that no action is being proposed to prevent the pollution of rivers through the pesticide’s use.

Wildlife Trust has said: “We need urgent action to restore the abundance of our insect populations, not broken promises that make the ecological crisis even worse. Evidence suggests the world has lost at least 50% of insects since 1970, and 41% of insect species were now threatened with extinction.”

Eleven European countries have now approved ‘emergency’ use of the product, including Spain, Belgium and Denmark, the UK authorities say, despite the EU ban.

The decision, following sugar industry lobbying, represents a u-turn from 2018, when a similar application was rejected due to serious impacts on bees in flowering crops and wildflower margins, as well as potential adverse effects on birds and small animals consuming seeds, and aquatic insects through run-off.

Who’s involved in the U-turn on bee-killing pesticide?

The NFU and British Sugar have both been highlighted for lobbying on the issue. The NFU has previously been accused of acting as an agribusiness lobby group and criticised for its support of the badger cull.

British Sugar, which has also been accused of lobbying for the emergency use of the pesticide, is part of the Associated British Foods group, which also owns the consumer brands: Twinings, Kingsmill, Allinson, Patak’s, Jordans, Sunblest, Burgen, Jacksons of Piccadilly, Dorset Cereals, Primark and Meena. The group receives an ethical score of just 3.5.

The pesticide is sold by agrochemical company Syngenta, which has been widely criticised over pollution from its chemicals and the associated human rights abuses, particularly in lower-income countries, and receives an ethical score of just 5.5.

How does this link to climate change?

Experts say that the virus affecting sugar beets, and resulting demands for the emergency use of aggressive pesticides, may be one of many over coming years, due to the emerging impacts from climate breakdown.

Farmers argue that the authorisation of thiamethoxam is necessary in light of the ‘beet yellows’ virus, which is decimating crops.

Many viruses, including beet yellows, are transmitted by aphids, which have seen a surge in numbers due to milder temperatures. Increasingly warm winters mean that the bugs - which often directly damage plants, and are usually killed off by winter frosts - are appearing both earlier in the year and in much greater numbers than before.

Tom Clark, a sugar beet farmer who sits on the NFU Sugar Board, states: “Climate Change is wreaking havoc on all the natural systems which our farming and food supply relies.” 

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