EC proposes pesticide ban to protect honeybees

Following a citizens’ campaign, a Europe-wide ban on pesticides posing a danger to bees is being considered, as B&Q and other retailers remove products from sale that contain the chemicals

The European Commission has proposed a ban on three widely used pesticides after a report concluded they are a serious threat to bees.

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the neonicotinoid pesticides pose “high acute risks” to bees encountering residue in the pollen and nectar of crops.

Tonio Borg, the European commissioner for health and consumer policy, responded by demanding “swift and decisive action” to counter the risk from clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. He issued a discussion paper proposing member states stop using the pesticides on crops attractive to bees, such as sunflower, maize, oilseed rape and cotton for a two-year period.

The sale and use of seeds treated with products containing the active substances would also be prohibited, with the suspension applying EU-wide from 1 July 2013. A spokesman for Borg said the suspension would allow for a period of assessment before any decisions on changing legislation.

The move followed more than two million people signing an online petition run by global campaign group Avaaz, calling for an immediate ban on neonicotinoids.

Bee populations have been in steady decline for years. Around 16% of Europe’s honeybee colonies disappeared between 1985 and 2005, according to the EU-funded Status and Trends of European Pollinators (STEP) project. Insects such as honeybees and wild bees help pollinate around 84% of Europe’s 264 crop species and 4,000 vegetable varieties, according to STEP.

Producers Bayer CropScience and Syngenta have disputed the European findings, but UK retailers B&Q, Wickes, and Homebase removed the pesticides from sale following the EFSA report.

Friends of the Earth, which is calling for a UK National Bee Action Plan, said ministers must “act quickly to support safe and effective alternatives.” A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it was finalising its own research on using neonicotinoids in field conditions so it could reach a conclusion “based on the most up-to-date and complete evidence available.”