France sees no easy fix for sugar beet disease without neonicotinoids

FILE PHOTO: A pile of harvested sugar beets is pictured in Hem-Lenglet, France, October 5, 2020 REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – None of the alternatives to neonicotinoids for protecting sugar beet crops works well enough on its own, France’s health agency ANSES said on Wednesday, as the country looks for ways to do without the chemical seen as harmful to bees.

France suspended its ban on the use of neonicotinoids on sugar beet crops until 2023 at the latest to help farmers and sugar makers who saw a slump in output after virus yellows spread by aphids ravaged fields across the country.

France is the European Union’s largest sugar beet grower and is home to some of the bloc’s largest sugar producers including Tereos and Cristal Union.

ANSES said it had identified four short-term solutions to replacing neonicotinoids. These comprise two conventional plant protection products with insecticidal properties, along with two farming techniques – mulching and organic fertilization – in cultivated plots to reduce aphid populations.

Among longer-term solutions, it cited synthetic plant protection products of natural origin; microorganisms; predatory insects or parasitoids who lay their eggs inside aphids; plant and mineral oils that provide physical protection for beets; and cultivation methods that combine growing beet with other plants.

“Most of the alternative solutions considered to be substitutable for neonicotinoids show correct but insufficient effectiveness, when used alone, to reduce the levels of damage to an acceptable economic threshold,” ANSES said in an opinion published on Wednesday.

Neonicotinoids have been banned for use on most crops in the European Union as part of efforts to stem a decline in bee numbers.

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