Skip to main content

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

Once again, the Westminster government has authorised the owner of Silver Spoon to use bee-toxic pesticide in England.

Environmental charities have criticised the government for granting an application by British Sugar and the NFU to allow the emergency use of the pesticide Cruiser SB on England’s sugar beet crop in 2022.

The pesticide contains the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam which has been banned by the EU for all outdoor use since 2018 because of its negative environmental impacts, particularly the harm it does to bees.

British Sugar is the sole processor of the UK’s sugar beet crop and owner of the Silver Spoon brand. It is owned by corporate giant AB Foods (Associated British Foods), which last year reported pre-tax profits of £725 million.

British Sugar claims that emergency use of the pesticide is necessary to protect the beet crop from the virus yellows disease. The government’s decision was contrary to the advice of its own Expert Committee on Pesticides which did not support the authorisation because of expected environmental effects.

Defra made similar concessions to the sugar industry in 2021, but an especially cold winter led to a fall in aphid numbers which meant that thiamethoxam was not used.

The UK Government and sugar industry should be investing in supporting growers to transition to alternative non-chemical control measures, rather than allowing the temporary use of banned pesticides.

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.

Who’s involved in pressing for use of the bee-killing pesticide?

The NFU and British Sugar have both been involved with 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, Sunblest, Burgen, (all four bread brands under Allied Bakeries), Patak’s, Jordans, Dorset Cereals, Primark and Meena. The AB Foods group receives an ethical score of 0 (zero).

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. 

How does pesticide use relate 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.” 

Take Action:

If you disagree with the decision, you can:

Find alternatives to these brands in our guides to high street clothes, biscuits, cereals, bread, and tea.

Free Issue

Sign up now to our email newsletter for a free digital copy of Ethical Consumer magazine.

Sign up now for our email newsletter