A Blend of Non-EU Honeys
As Brexit is slowly revealing the day-to-day repercussions to normal citizens, Anna illustrates the environmental repercussions of our new British honey.
As a result of the UK’s departure from the EU, a variety of pesticides that were previously impermissible can now be used. In particular, Environment Secretary George Eustice has temporarily permitted the use of the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam. Neonicotinoids are an especially egregious type of pesticide: among other environmental ramifications, they are approximately 7000 per cent more toxic to bees than early pesticides like DDT.
As well as contaminating honey samples, neonicotinoids have been linked to the weakening of bees’ immune systems. This is alarming for multiplicitous reasons including the reliance of British farming upon bees, with 90 per cent of agricultural crops dependent on such pollinators.
It was to protect the bees that EU members banned the vast majority of neonicotinoids in 2018, including thiamethoxam. At the time, The UK Government backed the ban, and pledged to maintain the restrictions post-Brexit. Then-Environment Secretary Michael Gove stated that “evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose… we cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk”. Indeed, the damage that neonicotinoids cause was already well-established: a governmental policy paper from 2015 categorically stated that “low doses of neonicotinoids could have sub-lethal effects on bees”, and “we will restrict the use of these products if the evidence shows the need”.
That The Government has acquiesced to the lobbying, and reneged on its previous pledges, has understandably resulted in outcry from environmental campaigners
Furthermore, The Government rejected an emergency application for the use of thiamethoxam in 2018, citing the ‘unacceptable effects’ to the environment that it would cause. Whilst nothing has scientifically changed since then, The Government has just temporarily authorised the use of thiamethoxam in response to pressure from both the National Farmers’ Union and British Sugar, who argue they need it in order to eliminate a virus that can damage sugar beet.
According to Labour MP Mohammad Yasin, these organisations secretly lobbied Environment Secretary George Eustice for the post-Brexit reintroduction of neonicotinoids, with the Union telling members of its plans in December and asking them to not share details on social media. Moreover, The Government’s statement on the authorisation- which is supposed to expire after 2021- asserts that the neonicotinoids may in fact be required until 2023.
Prior to Brexit, Pesticide Action UK predicted such relaxations in pesticide legislation, believing that standards would drop so British produce could compete with cheap imports. That The Government has acquiesced to the lobbying, and reneged on its previous pledges, has understandably resulted in outcry from environmental campaigners, MPs, and members of the public.
In terms of action that is being taken, The Government is currently reviewing its ‘pesticide action plan’: consequently, the charity Friends of the Earth has created a popular email template which urges for an ambitious reduction in permitted pesticides. Meanwhile, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas is leading a cross-party group of MPs who have written to the Environment Secretary and supported an amendment to the Environment Bill. This amendment acknowledges pesticides to be the biggest contributor of pollution, contamination and damage to the rural environment.