A bee pollinates a sunflower. The European Union voted for a ban on neonicotinoid nerve-agent pesticides blamed for the dramatic decline global bee populations. Photo: Independent

By Charlotte McDonald-Gibson  
29 April 2013

Brussels (Independent) – Environmentalists hailed a "victory for bees" today after the European Union voted for a ban on the nerve-agent pesticides blamed for the dramatic decline global bee populations.
 
Despite fierce lobbying by the chemicals industry and opposition by countries including Britain, 15 of the 27 member states voted for a two-year restriction on neonicotinoid insecticides. That gave the European Commission the support it needed to push through an EU-wide ban on using three neonicotinoids on crops attractive to bees.

Tonio Borg, the EC's top health official, said they planned to implement the landmark ban from December. "I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22bn annually to European agriculture, are protected," he said.

Britain was among eight nations which voted against the motion, despite a petition signed by 300,000 people presented to Downing Street last week by fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett. The Independent has also campaigned to save Britain's bee population.

Four nations abstained from the moratorium, which will restrict the use of imidacloprid and clothianidin, made by Germany's Bayer, and thiamethoxam, made by the Swiss company, Syngenta. The ban on use on flowering crops will remain in place throughout the EU for two years unless compelling scientific evidence to the contrary becomes available.

More than 30 separate scientific studies have found a link between the neonicotinoids, which attack insects' nerve systems, and falling bee numbers. The proposal by European Commission - the EU's legislative body - to ban the insecticides was based on a study by the European Food Safety Authority, which found in January that the pesticides did pose a risk to bees' health.

But the British government argued that the science was incomplete and said the ban could impact food production. Owen Patterson, the environment secretary, said that they wanted to wait for the results of more trials before committing to the Europe-wide policy. The UK will not, however, be able to opt out of the ban.

Green groups hailed yesterday's vote as a victory for science. "This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations," said Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth. Marco Contiero, EU agriculture policy director for Greenpeace, said the vote "makes it crystal clear that there is overwhelming scientific, political and public support for a ban.". […]

Dr Lynn Dicks, a research associate at the University of Cambridge, said that despite the contradictory studies, the EU was right to err on the side of caution. "This is a victory for the precautionary principle, which is supposed to underlie environmental regulation," she said. [more]

Europe bans neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for destroying bee population

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