Banned pesticide, accused of killing bees, may be approved for fish farms | Food
According to internal documents seen by the Guardian, the Scottish government appears poised to approve a banned insecticide, accused of destroying bee populations, for use in Scottish salmon farms, according to internal documents seen by the Guardian, so that MEPs warn of its potentially “devastating” impact on aquatic life.
The insecticide is one of three nicotine-based chemicals, or neonicotinoids, banned by the European Union in 2018 for agricultural use on crops, a ruling confirmed this month by the country’s highest court. EU, the European Court of Justice, which rejected an appeal by the multinational chemical company Bayer. The ban does not apply to rivers or the sea.
US government scientists have described the insecticide imidacloprid as an “environmental hazard” which can be “very toxic to aquatic life with long-term effects.”
An investigative news site, The Ferret, first revealed in March 2020 that the Scottish fish industry was planning to use imidacloprid to kill sea lice that can infest caged salmon.
A series of emails, published under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the Scottish government appears to be clearing the way for CleanTreat – a system that uses the insecticide to rid farmed salmon of sea lice, to be accepted for regulatory approval on Scottish fish farms. .
Annabel Turpie, director of Marine Scotland, the Scottish government agency that manages fisheries, said she would help environmental regulators on the new system, which uses imidacloprid. In correspondence with officials on March 1, 2021, Turpie wrote: “I said we will help collaborate with Sepa [Scottish Environment Protection Agency] and MSS [Marine Scotland Science] on CleanTreat technology. “
On 10 March, she spoke of the actions of the Scottish Government’s Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Center (SAIC) ‘regarding supporting the navigation of CleanTreat in the system’. She was “aware that the intention is for CleanTreat to show up in the second half of the year, assuming regulatory approval,” she said, but that an application had not yet been submitted. There was an “expectation” that Benchmark, the fish biotechnology company that makes CleanTreat, “would bring it to an existing site for approval,” she said.
Later in March, Turpie was told by officials ahead of a meeting with a fish farm, suggesting lines she could take, including that CleanTreat technology would be “well regarded”.
“We cannot bypass Sepa’s review as they have to go through the legal process,” the briefing said. “But there is a newly reinvigorated commitment within SG [Scottish government] and between regulators to support innovation in the aquaculture sector – I am confident this will be taken into consideration when receiving an application. “
This week, the European Commission was asked to withdraw a draft regulation allowing safe limits of imidacloprid for farmed fish, amid warnings of its “toxic” impact on rivers and streams. A resolution from a Green MEP, which will be submitted to the Commission’s Environment Committee for a vote on Thursday, calls for imidacloprid to instead be listed as an emerging environmental contaminant for which no maximum limit can be set for it. aquatic use.
Grace O’Sullivan, Green MEP for Southern Ireland, who tabled the resolution, said she was “very concerned” about the potential use of the insecticide in salmon farming as a treatment for sea lice , a small crustacean that feeds on the mucus, epidermal tissue and blood of host marine fish.
“This is of particular concern in Scotland, which has a large industry and tradition of salmon farming, but also in the EU, where the commission is proposing to establish a maximum residue limit (MRL) for imidacloprid.”
“This MRL will allow companies to apply for a marketing authorization for the product, and to apply it in the salmon farming industry in particular, where it will in all likelihood spread in the marine environment to the detriment of health. oceans and biodiversity. ”
O’Sullivan, a member of the European Parliament’s environment committee, said his objection calls on the committee to withdraw its implementing bill and include imidacloprid in a list of “pharmacologically active” substances , for which no maximum limit can be set for the aquatic environment. environment.
“There is growing evidence that the use of imidacloprid has a devastating impact on rivers and streams, affecting not only crustaceans and insect species, but also soil organisms. and bird populations, ”she said. “Its use in Japan has already led to a dramatic collapse of fish stocks which have not recovered.”
Concern is growing about the potential impact on aquatic life from non-agricultural use of the pesticide, including as a treatment for fleas in pets, after a study last year found. imidacloprid in two-thirds of English rivers.
Benchmark described CleanTreat as a “revolutionary” development for the salmon farming industry. It is a filtration system that would remove chemicals from fish farm process water in a “closed confined system” on ships before the purified water is returned to the sea.
Dave Goulson, professor of biology at the University of Sussex, and member of the team that identified the neonicotinoid in 66% of the 20 English rivers analyzed by the Environment Agency in 2016-2018, said: “The Most members of the public believe they have been banned and the issue has been resolved. But with its use on dogs [as a pet flea treatment] and now in fish farms it’s like the Old West.
“These chemicals are incredibly toxic – novichok to insects,” he said. “It takes a billionth of a gram to harm aquatic life, so even tiny traces would have major impacts on marine life.”
The CleanTreat system, which claims to remove imidacloprid from water “clearly needs to be tested by an independent lab,” the professor said.
Don Staniford, the campaigner behind Scottish Salmon Watch, which obtained the emails under freedom of information legislation, said: “The Scottish government is leading the way in the use of this toxic chemical even before the publication. environmental risk assessments. They should be on the side of science and the environment, not the side of a Norwegian company selling a banned neonicotinoid.
A Scottish government spokesperson said it regularly encourages innovation across the economy, including in fish farming. This included providing “procedural and technical” guidance to private sector organizations in industry.
All aquaculture farms are regulated and must adhere to “strict guidelines to ensure that environmental effects are assessed and safely managed,” the spokesperson said.
Any new product must undergo “rigorous testing before any approval”, including by Sepa, they added.
“Any use of the new drug imidacloprid would require authorization from Sepa, which has not received any requests for the use of imidacloprid and has had no prior discussion about it.”
A Sepa spokesperson confirmed that it had “no pre-application discussion, nor received a request for rejection of imidacloprid” on a trial basis or otherwise from Benchmark or any other company. .
The spokesperson said: “Trials of any new drug that would involve the release of residues into the environment would require authorization, and releases to the sea from land, fish pens or well boats require a permit. of Sepa. “
A spokesperson for Benchmark said, “CleanTreat is an award-winning and validated water purification system, which safely removes sea lice medications from process water in a closed, confined unit before returning the water. purified water in the sea.
“We are currently focused on launching our new sea lice solution, BMK08, which is used with CleanTreat, in Norway. At the moment we do not have any scheduled testing for BMK08 in Scotland. “
The BMKO8 drug uses imidacloprid, according to Benchmark.