A banned insecticide described as “novichok for insects” could reportedly be approved for use on Scottish salmon farms.
Imidacloprid was one of three nicotine-based chemicals banned by the European Union in 2018 for agricultural use on crops in a decision upheld by the European Court of Justice this month - but the ban does not apply to rivers or the sea.
The investigative news site The Ferret revealed in March 2020 that the Scottish fish farming industry was planning to use the insecticide to kill sea lice that can infest caged salmon.
By uncovering a series of emails under the Freedom of Information Act, they found the Scottish government appeared to be helping CleanTreat, a system using the insecticide, to be accepted for regulatory approval on Scottish fish farms.
In the emails, Annabel Turpie, director of Marine Scotland told colleagues she would “help with engagement” with environmental regulators so the treatment could “navigate through the system”.
She was briefed by officials to tell a fish farming company an application to use the treatment would be given “welcomed consideration”.
The insecticide has been blamed for destroying bee populations and described by Dave Goulson, a biology professor at Sussex University, as being “incredibly poisonous - the novichok for insects”.
Prof Goulson, who was part of the team that identified imidacloprid in 66 per cent of 20 English rivers analysed by the Environment Agency between 2016-18, told The Guardian: “Most members of the public think they have been banned and the problem has been solved. But with its use on dogs [as a pet flea treatment] and now in fish farms, it’s like the wild west.”
He said the CleanTreat system “clearly needs to be tested by an independent laboratory”.
A spokesperson for the Scottish government told the paper it routinely promoted innovation, including in fish farming, but said all aquaculture farms must meet “strict guidelines to ensure the environmental effects are assessed and managed safely”, with any new product needing to undergo “rigorous testing before any approval is granted”.
They said any use of imidacloprid would require authorisation from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, which has received no applications for its use.