RESTRICTIONS ON THE pesticides some blame for harming bee populations moved a step closer today.
In all, 15 European Member States supported a ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides. Eight countries voted against the ban and four abstained.
Given that a qualified majority was not reached, the decision will now rest with the European Commission. Tonio Borg, health and consumer commissioner, said he would push on and introduce the ban as planned in December.
"I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22 billion annually to European agriculture, are protected," he said.
The link between pesticides and bee health has divided scientists and politicians. However, bee populations have been declining, with some studies suggesting that a lack of pollinators could push food prices up.
Environmental groups hailed the vote as a “victory for bees” and a “victory for independent science against the political, pro-pesticide position” adopted by the coalition government in the UK.
The UK was one of the eight states to vote against the ban, claiming that there was not enough evidence to support the link between the insecticides and bee health. If the commission succeeds in pushing the ban through, the UK will not be able to opt out.
The Environmental Audit Committee claimed earlier this month that the Environment Department, DEFRA, was taking an “extraordinarily complacent” approach to protecting bees given the “weight of scientific evidence” that now proves the link between certain pesticides and a decline in bee populations.
The commission’s proposal for a ban is based on a study by the European Food Safety Authority, which found in January that the pesticides did pose a risk to bees' health. However, it did note “shortcomings” in some of the available data.
However, the NFU said the ban would have “catastrophic impacts” for food production as well as “unintended consequences for the environment”. Chris Hartfield from the NFU said: “We have to be confident that when we make changes, these changes will actually deliver benefits. At the moment, there is no evidence to show that there are any harmful effects of neonicotinoids on bees under field conditions.”