The decision by the UK government to give the green light to the use of a neonicotinoid pesticide currently banned across the EU is as predictable as it is appalling.
The government’s decision to allow the use of thiamethoxam to deal with aphids on sugar beet crops went directly against the advice of its own expert advisers, and will undoubtedly mean further damage to our threatened bee species.
Neonicotinoids act by attacking the nervous system of insect pests, but unfortunately they also damage beneficial pollinators. In the case of bees, the pesticide fatally disrupts their navigational abilities and can hinder their ability to reproduce. Neonicotinoids have also been found in rivers and streams, in soil and in honey.
The government has justified its decision by pointing to the significant damage that aphids are likely to cause to sugar beet crops after our comparatively warm winter.
The warm winter is undoubtedly a result of climate change, and neonicotinoids are not going to address that underlying problem.
That we grow so many monocultural acres of sugar beet in the first place is itself a reflection of our insatiable demand for sugar, despite the evidence of the damage it can do to our health.
A far more sustainable option would be to reduce our dependence on sugar. Within the agricultural sector, the sugar industry should be forced to use some of its obscene profits to help farmers develop more effective ways to combat the aphid problem without resort to neonicotinoids – for example through natural pest control and planting of resistant varieties.
Without bees and other pollinators we would be unable to produce much of the food we currently take for granted. We have already halved our insect population over the past fifty years, and two British bumblebee species are now extinct, with a further eight classified as endangered.
Reintroducing a toxic agrochemical that is rightly banned across most of Europe is only going to make a desperate situation worse.
This recipe combines parsnips, which are coming to the end of their season, with cannellini beans and garam masala to produce a deliciously creamy and tasty soup, enhanced by the addition of curry-spiced croutons.
parsnip and white bean soup with curried croutons
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
450 g parsnips
400 g can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 bay leaf
1 litre vegetable stock
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp garam masala
40 ml tbsp extra virgin olive oil
for the croutons
1 slice sourdough bread, cut into 1 cm cubes
1 tsp curry powder
30 ml extra virgin olive oil
1. Peel the parsnips and chop roughly into 2-3 cm pieces. Heat 40 ml olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and fry, stirring for 5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the parsnip and garlic and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes.
2. Add the stock, cannellini beans, sea salt, bay leaf and garam masala. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook at this temperature, stirring every so often, for 20 minutes or until the parsnip is soft. Remove from the heat and leave to cool while you make the croutons.
3. For the croutons, preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F, gas mark 2). In a bowl, whisk the olive oil and curry powder. Add the croutons and toss to coat them all in the oil. Leave to marinate for 10 minutes. Distribute the oiled bread cubes on a flat baking tray and place in the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes, turning the cubes periodically, until crisp and golden.
4. Remove the bay leaf from the soup and blend in a food processor or with a stick blender until smooth and creamy. Pour into a clean pan and heat gently until just about to simmer. Serve immediately, topped with a few of the spiced croutons.