The UK government must stop ignoring science and stop the use of a harmful pesticide, business leaders have said.
The neonicotinoid pesticide Cruiser SB is used on sugar beet and is highly toxic to bees. It has been banned in the EU, but the UK has agreed to it for the time being emergency use every year since he left the block. In 2017, the then environment secretary, Michael Gove, promised to use Brexit to ban all neonicotinoids.
Government scientist advisers said in September they could not support an authorization for Cruiser SB because the “potential adverse effects to honey bees and other pollinators outweigh the likely benefits”.
Now a group of businesses that depend on pollinators, including some farmers and those who use botanicals in their produce, have said the government should heed their advice and not allow harmful pesticides to be used.
In a letter to Mark Spencer, the agriculture minister, Anabel Kindersley, the chief executive of Neal’s Yard Remedies, Tim Mead, the head of Yeo Valley, as well as the boards of Lush and the Body Shop asked him to stop Cruiser SB from being used.
“We have to listen to the scientists. “Overuse of pesticides is killing our bees and other essential insect species that we rely on for a healthy, safe and clean environment,” they wrote.
“A single teaspoon of neonicotinoid is enough to deliver a lethal dose to 1.25 billion bees. One third of the UK bee population has disappeared in the past decade, and since 1900 the UK has lost 13 out of 35 native bee species.
“Many British businesses rely on a healthy pollinator population to maintain the high standards of our products. We need sustainable agricultural practices that do not harm our ecosystem.”
Sugar beet has one of the highest profit margins of any crop grown in the UK, but growers fear it could be hit by virus yellows, a disease spread by aphids, which could reduce crop production.
Seed is treated with Cruiser SB and it kills the aphids. However, the pesticide spreads into the soil, meaning that any wildflowers that grow in it are toxic to the bees that visit to pollinate.
Farming unions and sugar beet growers have been lobbying the government to allow Cruiser SB to be used next year, and it is thought ministers are likely to approve its emergency use.
Kindersley said: “Bees and other critical pollinators are being put at risk simply to grow slightly cheaper sugar. We believe that by acting against the advice of its own scientific advisers, the government is putting the UK’s well-deserved reputation for environmental leadership at risk.”
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We have received an application to use the neonicotinoid product Cruiser SB on the 2024 sugar beet crop, which is now being assessed.”