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British sugar over bees?


Earlier this year, the British government approved the use of thiamethoxam – a pesticide used to control the spread of a virus by aphids on sugar beet, yet one which is known to have a devastating impact on bees. In making the decision, ministers ignored warnings from their own scientific advisors who recommended against its approval. The ruling seems largely at odds with the government’s recently projected grants for green land management which aims to encourage a more sustainable future Britain’s environment. Despite the chemical being banned for agricultural use in the UK and EU in 2018, British Sugar were successful in their appeal to grant its use on sugar beet for the second consecutive year.

What is thiamethoxam and how does it affect our bee population and the rest of the environment?


The neonicotinoid, thiamethoxan, is a toxic chemical used to protect a wide variety of crops from agricultural pests. Despite being once hailed as an environmentally friendly alternative to spraying as it only targets the seeds, the mounting evidence on its adverse environmental impact is indisputable. Research has discovered that the toxin affects the survival of a colony in a catastrophic way – from minute traces in wildflowers or crop pollen wreaking havoc with bees’ ability to navigate and forage, to a single exposure significantly reducing the insect’s ability to produce offspring in future years.  One teaspoon is toxic enough to kill 1.25 billion bees!


“Future generations will be shocked that we ever considered using these toxins – we see already the catastrophic decline in insects and biodiversity.”

Milan Wiercx van Rhijn, from the charity Bees for Development

We spoke to Kirsty Williams, a beekeeper at the British Bee Company, who said: “The irresponsible and short-sighted decision of the UK Government to allow sugar beet farmers to use the neonicotinoid, thiamethoxam, will have a devastating impact on all insects within flying distance of treated crops and invertebrates in the soil for years to come. Neonicotinoids destroy the honeybee’s ability to forage and then navigate their way back to the hive. This means the disorientated, older foraging bees die in the field, leaving all the younger bees who are brood rearing in the hive to starve. This then has a profound impact on the pollinating services that hive of bees carry out in that area… which means flowers don’t get fertilised and can’t produce seed themselves, fruit doesn’t form which in turn is disastrous for birds, insects, rodents and the whole food chain. This is not sustainable food production and absolutely shouldn’t be allowed. It is a mighty backwards step”.

So the use of thiamethoxam this is a concern for our whole ecosystem, from reports claiming birds behaved as though ‘intoxicated’ following exposure, to a prediction from government advisors that the pesticide water pollution will irreparably harm river life. By killing the insects which are a crucial starting block in the food chains, we kill the animals higher up and risk the complete collapse of the whole farming system.  As around a third of the food we eat relies on pollination mainly by bees, it’s hard to grasp how much of an impact this will have on us. It’s a story as old as time and one we must surely all understand by now. 

We look to the government to make decisions which prioritise sustainability and fulfil the promise of a new era of regenerative agriculture that protects the ecosystem upon which we depend.