EU to ban pesticides in bid to save bees

A vote at the European Commission (EC) yesterday would see the imposition of a continent-wide ban on pesticides linked to bee deaths later this year.

Neonicotinoid chemicals are believed to harm the bees, whose numbers have been falling across Europe.

According to the EC they should be restricted to crops not attractive to bees and other pollinators, however, many farmers and crop experts had argued that there was insufficient data.

The commission would impose a two-year restriction on neonicotinoids after 15 countries voted to go along with the proposed ban which was not enough to form a qualified majority. However, under EU rules, a hung vote would allow the proposals to pass.

The UK was not among the countries voting in favour of the ban, which could take effect later this year, as it argued that the science behind the proposal was inconclusive.

Neonicotinoid pesticides, new nicotine-like chemicals affect the nervous systems of insects, and damage bees' brains causing them to be disorientd and unable to find flowers to feed on and eventually die.

Wild species such as honey bees are said to be behind the pollination of a third of the world's crop production.

An EU vote on the matter last month proved inconclusive, so the commission proposal went to an appeals committee, which voted yesterday.

A number of countries including France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia  have placed restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia.

Meanwhile, the UK government warned last night that an EU ban on pesticides believed to kill bees would mean "significant costs" for British farmers.

Environment minister Lord de Mauley issued the warning following the EC's decision to go ahead with a two year ban on neonicotinoids in a bid to save bees.

According to the UK, which was among the countries opposed to the ban, better scientific evidence was needed of the link between pesticides and a huge decline in the bee population before an action of the kind was taken.

Lord de Mauley said in a statement: "Having a healthy bee population is a top priority for us but we did not support the proposal for a ban because our scientific evidence doesn't support it.

"Significant countries agree with us that a ban is not the right action to take and we will work with them to get much better evidence.

"We will now work with farmers to cope with the consequences as a ban will carry significant costs for them."