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Article: France to allow neonic STs to tackle sugar beet yellowing

19 August 2020

The French Ministry of Agriculture has come up with an action plan, including allowing the use of neonicotinoid insecticide seed treatments, to tackle the "unprecedented crisis" of yellowing virus damage to the country's sugar beet crops. The yellowing is caused by one or more of: beet yellows virus; beet mild yellowing virus; and beet chlorosis virus. The viruses are transmitted by aphids.

The Ministry points out that for two years, French sugar beet growers have not used crop protection products containing neonicotinoids, unlike their European competitors who have recourse to the exemptions provided for by EU law. The 2020 planting season has shown that the technical alternatives available have proved ineffective for the cultivation of sugar beet, in particular in the weather conditions at the beginning of 2020, it adds.

The Ministry has proposed a legislative modification this autumn to allow the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments for the 2021 season and, if necessary the two following crop seasons at most. That would be under Article 53 of the EU agrochemical registration Regulation (1107/2009), "as is done by other EU countries facing the same difficulties, in order to be able to take an exemption of 120 days for coated seeds at the time of sowing, under strictly supervised conditions". The Ministry points out that EU regulation authorises such exemptions on the condition "that such a measure is necessary because of a danger which cannot be controlled by other reasonable means".

Beets do not produce flowers before the harvest period, which limits the impact of these insecticides on pollinating insects, the Ministry says. Nevertheless, strict conditions of use will be associated for the examination of any request for these exemptions. They include: only use by coating the seeds can be considered, and that spraying will remain prohibited, in order to limit the risks of dispersion of the product; a ban on the planting of crops attractive to pollinator, following those of sugar beets, so as not to expose pollinating insects to possible product residues; and the creation, by the end of 2020, of a plan for the protection of pollinators, aimed at strengthening their protection during flowering periods, and better taking into account the issues associated with pollinators when crop protection products are placed on the market.

The action plan also includes a reinforced and substantial research effort to accelerate the identification of "truly effective" alternatives, through private research institutes such as the ITB (Technical Institute for Beetroot ) as well as public research institutes such the national research institute for agriculture, food and the environment, the INRAE. An additional €5 million ($5.8 million) will be available from 2021 as part of the recovery plan. There will be an examination of the yield losses for the 2020 season and compensation in the event of significant losses linked to this beet yellows crisis under the EU's "de minimis" aid scheme.

The yellowing virus has developed massively in all French sugar beet producing regions and will have a very strong impact on production, the Ministry says. The disease can cause yield losses of 30-50%. The Ministry is worried that the crisis will create the risk of a massive abandoning of sugar beet in 2021 by farmers in favour of other crops. "If sowing is done from March, the choice of crops for the following year is decided in the coming weeks. There is therefore an urgent need to act," the Ministry stresses.

France banned five neonicotinoid insecticides, acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam, in September 2018. That was days before the EU's ban on outdoor uses of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, which came into effect on September 19th 2018. Some member states have been giving emergency approvals for neonicotinoid use since then. But a European Food Safety Authority study found that some of the emergency neonicotinoid authorisations granted by seven member states were not justified. Earlier this year, the European Commission went ahead with measures to stop Lithuania and Romania from granting emergency approvals for certain uses of neonicotinoid insecticides.

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