Days after leaving the EU and its ‘red tape’ the Government has agreed to use of a neonicotinoid insecticide to protect the sugar beet crop in East Anglia from a virus spread by aphids. Three years ago the government supported a ban on the use of these insecticides; it knows how fatal they are to bees and other beneficial insects.

The NFU says some farmers see up to 80% of their crop threatened this year, and is asking for the consent to address a one-off threat. But as we all know, viruses are multiplying, mutating and spreading in the global marketplace and there is no guarantee there won’t be another virus or even just another mutation next year or the year after.

The important statistics are in a special edition of the respected Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ( The leading paper says ‘Nature is under siege [and] most biologists agree that the world has entered its sixth mass extinction event…Insects are suffering from ‘death by a thousand cuts’ [and] severe insect declines can potentially have global ecological and economic consequences.”

We are currently seeing insect populations falling by 1-2% a year: not a lot? That’s 10-20% every decade; that’s the whole lot at some point between 2050 and 2100. And without insects human life is not possible: that’s what the web of life we all learnt about in school actually means.

I’m sorry for the farmers concerned but compared to the existential threat, the threat to an annual sugar beet crop is small potatoes. There are other ways of addressing the aphids; there are even other ways of sweetening food. Farmers have to play their part in slowing down the juggernaut of extinction.

David Lambert