Bee deaths: EU to ban neonicotinoid pesticides

Honeybee Honeybees are vital for pollinating crops - a job that would be very costly without them

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The European Commission will restrict the use of pesticides linked to bee deaths by researchers, despite a split among EU states on the issue.

There is great concern across Europe about the collapse of bee populations.

Neonicotinoid chemicals in pesticides are believed to harm bees and the European Commission says they should be restricted to crops not attractive to bees and other pollinators.

But many farmers and crop experts argue that there is insufficient data.

Fifteen countries voted in favour of a ban - not enough to form a qualified majority. According to EU rules the Commission will now have the option to impose a two-year restriction on neonicotinoids - and the UK cannot opt out.

The Commission says it wants the moratorium to begin no later than 1 December this year.

The UK did not support a ban - it argues that the science behind the proposal is inconclusive. It was among eight countries that voted against, while four abstained.

Wild species such as honey bees are said by researchers to be responsible for pollinating around one-third of the world's crop production.

There is heated debate about what has triggered the widespread decline in bee populations. Besides chemicals, many experts point to the parasitic varroa mite, viruses that attack bees and neglect of hives.

After Monday's vote the EU Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg, said "the Commission will go ahead with its text in the coming weeks".

What exactly are Neonicotinoids?

  • Nicotine is not just lethal to humans in the form of cigarettes, but the chemical is also extremely toxic to insects
  • Neonicotinoid pesticides are new nicotine-like chemicals and act on the nervous systems of insects, with a lower threat to mammals and the environment than many older sprays
  • Pesticides made in this way are water soluble, which means they can be applied to the soil and taken up by the whole plant - they are called "systemic", meaning they turn the plant itself into a poison factory, with toxins coming from roots, leaves, stems and pollen
  • Neonicotinoids are often applied as seed treatments, which means coating the seeds before planting.

"I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22bn euros (£18.5bn; $29bn) annually to European agriculture, are protected."

Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said Monday's vote "makes it crystal clear that there is overwhelming scientific, political and public support for a ban.

"Those countries opposing a ban have failed."

An EU vote last month was inconclusive, so the Commission proposal went to an appeals committee on Monday - and again the countries were split on the issue.

Some restrictions are already in place for neonicotinoids in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia.

The three neonicotinoids are clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam.

A report published by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in January concluded that the pesticides posed a "high acute risk" to pollinators, including honeybees.

However, it added that in some cases it was "unable to finalise the assessments due to shortcomings in the available data".

Bee stress factors - graphic
Intensive lobbying

There was ferocious lobbying both for and against in the run-up to Monday's vote, the BBC's Chris Morris reports from Brussels.

Nearly three million signatures were collected in support of a ban. Protesters against neonicotinoids rallied in Westminster on Friday.

Campaign organiser Andrew Pendleton of the environmental group Friends of the Earth said "leading retailers have already taken action by removing these pesticides from their shelves and supply chains - the UK government must act too".

Chemical companies and pesticide manufacturers have been lobbying just as hard - they argue that the science is inconclusive, and that a ban would harm food production.

The UK government seems to agree with the industry lobby. It objected to the proposed ban in its current form. The chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, has said restrictions on the use of pesticides should not be introduced lightly, and the idea of a ban should be dropped.

The EU moratorium will not apply to crops non-attractive to bees, or to winter cereals.

It will prohibit the sale and use of seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides.

And there will be a ban on the sale of neonicotinoids to amateur growers.

There have been a number of studies showing that the chemicals, made by Bayer and Syngenta, do have negative impacts on bees.

One study suggested that neonicotinoids affected the abilities of hives to produce queen bees. More recent research indicated that the pesticides damaged their brains.

But the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) argues that these studies were mainly conducted in the laboratory and do not accurately reflect field conditions.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Come on Benyon.. MAN UP!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Once again, we are in a situation where the impact of human activity on the ecosystem in not fully understood.

    The importance of bees is now appreciated, but do we REALLY understand how everything interacts? We still have a lot to learn.

    The one thing we can be sure of is that we'll mess it up somehow!

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    All the bees are out of it after polinating all the cannabis farms dotted round the country, give them some munchies and they will be as right as rain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Multinational food producers over the past seventy years have devastated agriculture, made farming unpopular and propagated lies about safety and cheap food, remember the DDT promise, to wipe out poverty! This industry is about massive profits in the most nihilistic of behaviours, this ban must happen today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    I am no great follower of either farming or nature,but the damage being done to the bee population & other species has been covered for years now in TV documentary's,non-specialist newspapers,magazines,radio.
    It's the usual story,just like our planet as a whole,avoid doing anything due to BIG business(farming in this case),electoral cycles(funding)and many other vested interests,until you have to!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    The chemical industry might one day make our food without bees

    For now, our food depends on agriculture. And the viability of many states depends on agricultural income

    We should not ignore the protests of those states - facing bee catastrophe - against 'commercial obligation' to use substances that bring advantage to some but food shortage and ruin to more if not all in the end

    Another symptom

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    If the Uk block this ban in the European Parliament today I will be ashamed to be British. We simply can't gamble with our bee populations. Once they are gone, they are gone, with devastating consequences for us all. It's another example of government being swayed by big business. How can people have faith in democracy when government consistently puts short term financial gains before our futures

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    All for this. Those that are not, should buzz off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Bit like climate change...there will never be enough 'absolute' evidence for govts and big businesses until people are getting around London and NY by canoe. Then it will be too late of course.

    Lets ban this stuff Now in an agricultural county (compensate farmers if necessary) and see what happens over a year or so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    @35. andyg
    er... really? Inside is pest and weed free? Try asking the average greenhouse gardener how true that is.
    Even if you can seal the greenhouse totally (which then requires air conditioning to keep the temp down) you still have produce going in and out, feeding watering etc etc.
    Your idea doesn't work

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Banning these Neonicotinoid could hit food production. But, not nearly as badly as loosing all the bees etc. We need to write a law along the lines of, "If a sold product is found to be dangerous and/or harmful to the environment and people etc., all profits and capital from said product has to be surrendered, with the addition of fines and damages".

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Blimey! Don't tell me this would be an EU directive I actually agree with"

    I'm sure there are plenty more that you would agree with. I doubt many consumers would disagree with directives protecting their consumer right such as warranties, safety standards, compensation for flight delays, water purity and many of the other rights we all take for granted but the tabloid press never mention

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Since the EU has so much cash for farm subsidies, how about they fund a number of farms to trial alternative pesticides for a couple of years, and then we can have a proper examination of the effect of neonicotinoids on bee numbers?

    This will lead to proof one way or the other that chemical companies cannot ignore, while guaranteeing no farmer loses out if crop yields are hit. Win-win?

  • Comment number 58.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Of course the Europhoes will completly forget all about this,

    We don't forget at all, and we are not "Phobes". If you think 1 good thing makes up for 100 bad things, you are deluded. We want to govern ourselves, not be told what to do by people we don't elect. Are you really that dead to logic that you can't understand that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Having a holiday home in France with 40+ fruit trees, I have noticed the result of bee shortages; last year the orchard was virtually bare. Whatever the reason, the results are obvious, so I would advocate not taking too many risks and would personally like to see such pesticides banned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I don't think politicians take things like this seriously enough. If bees went extinct the human race would starve and potentially become extinct ourselves. We could find ways round it but I doubt we could implement them quickly or effectively enough to prevent a global catastrophe.

    This is as serious as it gets, but they ignore it. Instead they spend their time bickering over trivial nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I noticed 2 things

    1) amateur growers will be banned from using them - why just them ? Is it just that they don't have such a loud voice or big stick !

    2) so we DONT ban pesticides because there is insufficient evidence, but we DO have a badger cull, even though there is no compelling evidence that will be successful either

    Govt is just siding with the groups that could damage them most.


  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Yet another great initiative from the EU. Hope they get it through.

    Of course the Europhoes will completly forget all about this, and many other sensible proposals (which make the UK a better place and which never would have got a look in here due to vested comercial interests) the next time they disagree with a "human rights" ruling!


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