Global Agriculture

Emergency pesticide authorisation to protect sugar beet crops

02 March 2022, UK: In January 2021, Defra approved an emergency temporary authorisation for the use of a neonicotinoid pesticide treatment on the 2022 sugar beet crop in England only due to the risk to the crop from yellows viruses, which could damage the UK’s sugar production.

The emergency authorisation was granted subject to strict conditions including an initial threshold for use, to ensure the seed treatment is used only if the predicted virus incidence is at or above 19% of the national crop according to independent modelling.

Following a relatively mild winter, modelling has today (1 March 2022) predicted a 68% level of virus incidence, which means the threshold for use has been met and the seed treatment can now proceed under strict conditions

Emerging sugar beet seedlings are vulnerable to predation by aphids which have the potential to spread beet yellows virus. Sugar beet crops have been severely affected, with 2020 yields down by a quarter on previous years. Other pesticide and organic treatments are not sufficiently effective in controlling viruses.

63% of the UK’s sugar comes from domestic production of sugar beet which could be at risk if a significant amount of the national crop is infected. The strictly time limited emergency authorisation of this neonicotinoid treatment – Syngenta’s Cruiser SB – will provide emergency protection against this virus, which could significantly impact yields of the sugar beet crop while the beet industry develops alternative solutions. Its exceptional temporary use will be tightly controlled and only permitted in very specific circumstances when strict requirements are met.

The maximum amount of treatment approved for use is 6% of the quantity of active substance applied on a range of crops in 2016 before neonicotinoids were prohibited.

Conditions of the authorisation include reduced application rate as well as a prohibition on any flowering crop being planted in the same field where the product has been used within 32 months of a treated sugar beet crop.

12 EU countries – with significant sugar production – including France, Belgium, Denmark and Spain have granted emergency authorisations in the last three years for neonicotinoid seed treatments following the EU-wide ban – backed by the UK – coming into force.

The UK’s approach to the use of emergency authorisations has not changed as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU, and is in line with the approach taken across Europe. The UK’s work to harness advancements in scientific research including through gene editing will also help to develop crops that are more resistant to aphids and other pests.

A Defra spokesperson said:

The decision to approve an emergency authorisation was not taken lightly and based on robust scientific assessment. We evaluate the risks very carefully and only grant temporary emergency authorisations for restricted pesticides in special circumstances when strict requirements are met and there are no alternatives.

The threshold for use has now been met according to the independent scientific modelling conducted on the virus spread. Under the terms of this authorisation seed treatment can go ahead with strict controls in place to mitigate risks