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Europe to Ban Neonicotinoids

In the midst of an ongoing debate over the role of the pesticides in the deaths of bees, the European Union will restrict their use for 2 years.

By | April 30, 2013

FLICKR, MONICA R.The European Commission (EC) will severely restrict the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides blamed by some researchers for the widespread collapse of bee populations. A fierce debate over the role the chemicals continues among researchers, lawmakers, and industry, but for the next 2 years, the EC will take a precautionary approach, it announced yesterday (April 29).

Bees pollinate roughly a third of the world’s food crops, so mass die-offs of bee colonies around the globe are a matter for grave concern. A growing body of research suggests that neonicotinoids, used since the 1990s to protect crops from insect pests, might be harming bees exposed to nectar and pollen in flowers that have absorbed the chemicals from the soil.

But pesticide manufacturers, farmers, and other scientists argue that most of the studies have been conducted in the lab and do not reflect field conditions, and that the evidence that neonicotinoids are killing bees is far from conclusive.

In January this year, the EC proposed a 2-year ban on the pesticides in areas where they might affect bees. In March, the proposal did not receive enough votes from European member states to be put into practice, and this week an appeals committee also fell short of achieving the required majority. Nevertheless, under European Union rules, the impasse allowed the EC to go ahead with the plans, reported Nature.

“I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22 billion [$28.7 billion] annually to European agriculture, are protected,” said EC Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, announcing the implementation of the plans, which will come into force this December.

Environmental groups welcomed the decision as a victory for the precautionary principle, reported Nature—although some researchers pointed out that a 2-year ban may not be long enough to show whether the pesticides are the culprit.

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