Press release: 17 November 2023
Lawyers warn watchdog over UK government's approval of bee-threatening pesticide
ClientEarth lawyers have warned the UK’s environmental watchdog that the government may have breached environmental law by approving a pesticide which poses risks to honey bees, other pollinators and freshwater aquatic life.
In a complaint to the Office for Environmental Protection, ClientEarth argue that by granting an emergency authorisation to use the neonicotinoid pesticide Cruiser SB on sugar beet crops in East Anglia in January this year, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) may have failed to comply with environmental law.
Bees and other pollinators underpin the health of our environment and our food systems, and experts have warned their wellbeing is at risk with the use of Cruiser SB. Both the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Expert Committee on Pesticides raised serious concerns over this year’s emergency authorisation because the pesticide contains thiamethoxam – a chemical which has the potential to cause serious harm to pollinators. 
According to the HSE’s report, even at non-lethal doses, exposure to thiamethoxam may compromise pollinators’ ability to forage and navigate and potentially cause “a reduction in survival of honey bees”.
Neonicotinoid pesticides can stay active in affected soil for years and a recent study has shown they are also appearing in rivers. Recent data gathered by the Environment Agency shows that more than one in 10 English rivers now contain neonicotinoid pesticides, with many of these at levels which are considered unsafe for aquatic life. 
ClientEarth made separate requests to engage with the department on its decision but did not receive a response to their concerns and have escalated the matter by submitting a complaint to the Office of Environmental Protection.
ClientEarth’s UK Head Kyle Lischak said:
“Contrary to the advice of a number of expert public bodies, the government has approved a pesticide that is banned in the EU because of the risks it poses to bees.
“We believe this approval breaches environmental law and has the potential to undermine the important role played by pollinators in food production and the pollination of wild plants.”
“This risk could be compounded in coming years if the government continues to grant emergency authorisations like this one, on what is, in our view, an unlawful basis.”
According to recent research by PAN UK, there are now up to 36 pesticides approved in the UK which are no longer permitted for use in the EU. 
This is despite numerous assurances given by the government that the UK will maintain and increase standards of environmental protection.
Lawyers highlighted that the UK government made clear promises to minimise the risks and impacts of pesticides in its 25 Year Environment Plan of 2018 and the Environmental Improvement Plan of 2023. The Environmental Improvement Plan acknowledged that:
“…there is growing evidence that pesticides have the potential to impact non-target species such as pollinators and soil-dwelling invertebrates, which provide essential services to farmers and growers and are crucial for a thriving natural environment. 
Lischak added: “Farmers are custodians of much of our natural environment. The government must fully support them in making the switch to using environmentally sustainable methods of pest control that work with nature, instead of continuing to approve pesticides that carry risks of environmental harm.”
Notes to editors:
 The UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) advice on the use of Cruiser SB on sugar beet is available at: The UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) advice 2023: use of ‘Cruiser SB’ on sugar beet - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) The Health and Safety Executive’s emergency registration for the use of Cruiser SB on the 2023 sugar beet crop is available at: Cruiser SB emergency registration report - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
 The Rivers Trust and Wildlife and Countryside Link conducted analysis of neonicotinoid pesticides using official Environment Agency data from 2020 to 2022 and found that 1 or more of 5 harmful neonicotinoids analysed were found in more than 1 in 10 English river sites tested by Environment Agency: Bee-killing pesticides found at wildlife-threatening levels in rivers around the country (wcl.org.uk)
 PAN UK’s 2023 report on the UK falling behind on EU pesticide standards is available at: UK falling behind EU pesticide standards - Pesticide Action Network UK (pan-uk.org)
 The first revision of the Environment Improvement Plan 2023 is available at: Environmental Improvement Plan (publishing.service.gov.uk)
ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.