Modern pesticides widely used by British farmers could be restricted over concerns they are responsible for a decline in bee populations. The European Commission said neonicotinoids, insecticides often applied directly to seed so the crop grows up resistant to pests, should be banned from use on ‘flowering crops’ for the next two years. One of the main uses of the pesticide is oilseed rape, which honey bees commonly feed on, as well as sugar beet and even ornamental plants.
A January review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found neonicotinoids are a threat to bees and should not be used on plants they are attracted to. The EU’s commissioner for health and consumer policy, Tonio Borg, has now called for ‘swift and decisive action’ and proposed to restrict three types of the popular pesticides from as early as July.
‘We are requesting member states suspend for two years the use of this pesticide on seeds, granulates and sprays for crops which attract bees,’ Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent said.
And Britain was yesterday accused of opposing the restrictions by environmental groups, who called for immediate action. Earlier this week, leading DIY and garden stores announced they would stop selling the pesticide, which is linked to the steady decline of bee populations, and are known to affect the creatures’ nervous system with fatal results.
B&Q says it will no longer stock pesticide containing the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid, because of ‘concerns about the potential for harm’, while Homebase has followed. Separately, Wickes said it is to replace a product containing the neonicotinoid insecticide thiamethoxam, later this year.
Introduced in the 1990s, the pesticides are based on nicotine and contain compounds which are thought to interfere with the bees’ central nervous system, which has an impact on their memory and ability to find their way back home.
Although bumblebees were already in decline, their numbers have fallen faster and honey bee populations are thought to have halved since the 1980s in Britain. German chemical giant Bayer which manufactures neonicotinoid treatments earlier this week insisted that there was no need for them to be banned. Marco Contiero, from Greenpeace, said Britain was firmly opposed to restrictions, while advocacy group Avaaz condemned ‘spurious’ British and German opposition.
Speaking this week, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: ‘It’s important that we take action based upon scientific evidence rather than making knee-jerk decisions that could have significant knock-on impacts. ‘That’s why we are carrying out our own detailed field research to ensure we can make a decision about neonicotinoids based on the most up-to-date and complete evidence available.’ But campaigners welcomed the proposals put out by the Commission.
Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns Andrew Pend
leton said: ‘This hugely significant EU proposal promises a first, important step on the road to turning around the decline in our bees. The UK Government must throw its weight behind it. ‘The evidence linking neonicotinoid chemicals to declining bee populations is growing. We can’t afford to ignore the threat they pose to these crucial pollinators.
‘It is time to put farmers and nature before pesticide company profits. Ministers must act quickly to support safe and effective alternatives to chemical insecticides - and bring these forward as part of a National Bee Action Plan.’
Mail online, 30 January 2013