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Minister defends emergency use of banned pesticide to tackle sugar beet virus

By Trevor Mason, PA Political Staff

The Government has defended its decision to allow a banned pesticide to be used to tackle a virus threatening sugar beet crops.

Peers criticised the emergency authorisation given by ministers for the use of a neonicotinoid product as a seed treatment on sugar beet.

But environment minister Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park said it was a “narrow” authorisation made “on the merits of the case”.

Lord Goldsmith said the Government remained committed to “tight controls” on neonicotinoids and had no intention of lifting restrictions put in place in 2018.

Sugar beet farmers in Norfolk warned their crops were being damaged by beet yellows virus and asked for a temporary easing of rules around the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

In 2013, the EU restricted the use of three neonicotinoids, Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam, on a number of crops, with a ban on outdoor use completely approved in 2018 in a bid to help protect pollinators such as bees.

At question time, Lord Goldsmith said strict conditions applied to the emergency authorisation ensured its impact was outweighed by the benefits.

But Tory Lord Randall of Uxbridge said many felt “immense frustration and even anger” over the decision and warned there were no safeguards preventing this “dangerous substance” entering watercourses.

Lord Goldsmith said the Government remained committed to neonicotinoid restrictions and insisted the emergency authorisation applied for a “very limited period” for one specific crop with tight controls to minimise the environmental impact.

“No one likes pesticides but the conditions that have been applied will limit whatever potential negatives exist,” he told the Lords.

Lord Goldsmith said the authorisation would cover one season to allow the industry time to develop alternatives.

Facing further cross party concerns, he said: “This is a narrow emergency authorisation made on the merits of the case.”

Tory former Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, an amateur beekeeper, said evidence showed neonicotinoids were “highly toxic” to bees, adding that it was “rather irresponsible” to even consider a derogation.

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