Greta Thunberg has lashed out at Boris Johnson for a post-Brexit relaxation of rules that will allow British farmers to use a bee-killing pesticide that is banned by the European Union.
Environment secretary George Eustice has agreed to let a product containing the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam to treat sugar beet seed this year in an effort to protect the crop from a virus.
Setting out conditions for the “limited and controlled” use of the pesticide, officials said the minister had agreed an emergency authorisation of it for up to 120 days after British Sugar and the National Farmers Union had lobbied the government.
But the Wildlife Trusts said neonicotinoids pose a significant environmental risk, particularly to bees and other pollinators.
Taking to Twitter, they said: “Bad news for bees: The Government has bowed to pressure from the National Farmers Union to agree the use of a highly damaging pesticide.
“The government know the clear harm that neonicotinoid pesticides cause to bees and other pollinators and just three years ago supported restrictions on them across the European Union.
“Insects perform vital roles such as pollination of crops and wildflowers, and nutrient recycling, but so many have suffered drastic declines.”
Now Thunberg – the 18-year-old Swedish climate activist – has lent her voice to the chorus of condemnation, mocking “the UK’s so-called ‘green industrial revolution’”, sarcastically saying it is “off to a great start” and is “very credible indeed”.
Studies have shown that a third of the UK bee population is thought to have vanished in a decade, yet up to three-quarters of crop species are pollinated by bees.
2017 research of 33 oilseed rape sites in the UK, Germany and Hungary found a link between higher levels of neonicotinoid residues and lower bee reproduction, with fewer queens in bumblebee hives and fewer egg cells in solitary bee nests.
The following year, the EU agreed a ban on all outdoor uses of three neonicotinoid insecticides to protect bees.
A number of celebrities including Sue Perkins have put their name to a petition calling for the environment secretary to reverse the decision.
Quoting a pledge from Michael Gove in 2017, shortly after the Brexit referendum, she said she is “so sick of the endless, endless lies”.
Sign the petition here.