Campaigners have hailed a decision by European countries to bring in a near-total ban on pesticides linked to declines in bees as a “major victory”.
European Union member states have decided on a ban on the outdoor use of “neonicotinoid” pesticides, after an assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirmed in February the dangers they posed to bees.
Use of the three pesticides is already restricted in the European Union on crops such as oil seed rape, because of the concerns they have “sub-lethal” effects such as harming the bees’ ability to forage and form colonies.
Member states have now endorsed proposals by the European Commission to completely ban the outdoor uses of the three active substances, meaning they can only be used in greenhouses.
However, how farmers replace the pesticides will be crucial, says Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex, UK. “If these neonicotinoids are simply replaced by other similar compounds such as sulfoxaflor, cyantraniliprole and flupyradifurone (all new systemic insecticides), then we will simply be going round in circles,” he says. “What is needed is a move towards truly sustainable farming methods that minimise pesticide use, encourage natural enemies of crop pests, and support biodiversity and healthy soils.”
The EFSA assessment, which looked at the impact on wild solitary bees and bumblebees as well as honeybees, confirmed that most uses of the chemicals pose a risk to the insects.
Last year, UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove had said the UK would back a ban on the neonicotinoids, saying new evidence indicated the risk to bees and other insects from the chemicals was “greater than previously understood”.
Emi Murphy, bee campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “This is a major victory for science, common sense and our under-threat bees. The evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides pose a threat to our bees is overwhelming.
“It’s great news that Michael Gove listened to the experts and backed the ban – he must now give farmers the support they need to grow food without bee-harming pesticides.”
Indoor use only
Antonia Staats, senior campaigner at Avaaz, which had led a petition backed by five million signatures to ban the chemicals, said: “Banning these toxic pesticides is a beacon of hope for bees.
“Finally, our governments are listening to their citizens, the scientific evidence and farmers who know that bees can’t live with these chemicals and we can’t live without bees.”
European Commission spokeswoman Anca Paduraru told reporters in Brussels that it was hoped the ban will enter into force by the end of the year.
She added that there would be exemptions for the indoor use of neonicotinoids.
“We are banning all outdoor uses, so under strict conditions they might still be used in greenhouses,” she said.
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