European Commission to impose two-year EU-wide restrictions on neonicotinoid insecticides

The European Union is to introduce EU-wide restrictions on neonicotinoid insecticides; clothianidin, thiametoxam and imidacloprid.

The European Commission will restrict the use of the neonicotinoids to crops not attractive to bees and other pollinators.

EU member states failed to reach a qualified majority on the issue in Monday's Appeal Committee. Fifteen countries voted in favour of a ban - not enough to form a qualified majority.

According to EU rules the Commission will now impose a two-year restriction on neonicotinoids. The Commission says it wants the moratorium to begin no later than 1 July this year.

EU health commissioner Tonio Borg said; "The Commission will go ahead with its text in the coming weeks". He added: "I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22 billion euros annually to European agriculture, are protected."

NFU lead on bee health Dr Chris Hartfield said: "The commission's decision to ban three widely used neonicotinoids is likely to have catastrophic impacts for food production and unintended consequences for the environment, without delivering any measurable benefits for bee health.

"This issue is about science and evidence, and finding a balanced way to tackle the significant challenges to bee health. However, it looks like we are about to make populist changes that do nothing to measurably improve the situation for bees, but will make it harder and more costly for farmers and growers to control pests on a whole range of agricultural and horticultural crops."

Syngenta said the latest decision should compel the commission to return to the negotiating table rather than forcing through the implementation of a ban. Chief operating officer John Atkin said: "The European Commission has again failed to win the necessary support for its proposed ban on this vital technology. The proposal is based on poor science and ignores a wealth of evidence from the field that these pesticides do not damage the health of bees.

"Instead of banning these products, the Commission should now take the opportunity to address the real reasons for bee health decline: disease, viruses and loss of habitat and nutrition."

Bayer Garden also criticised the move. The company sells one product for amateur gardeners that will be affected, Provado Lawn Grub Killer, and is planning to work with retailers to withdraw it in line with the EC’s timetable, which is yet to be confirmed.

A Bayer spokesperson said the decision had been taken without the support of clear scientific evidence. "The contribution of bees as pollinators of both crops and wildflowers is essential to the ecosystem and we take their health very seriously. This is why we invest heavily to address the real problems facing the bee population and have already moved from the old to the new generation neonicotinoids for all but this one product, where the new active ingredient is not effective against chafer grubs and leatherjackets and there are no chemical alternatives available."

Welcoming the decision, Friends of the Earth head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said it was; "a significant victory for common sense and our beleagured bee populations.

"Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.

He added: "But pesticides are just one of the threats bees face - if David Cameron is genuinely concerned about declining bee numbers he must urgently introduce a Bee Action Plan"

"Ministers must now help farmers to grow and protect crops, but without relying so heavily on chemicals – especially those linked to bee decline."

Also welcoming the decision the Soil Association's Emma Hockridge, said: "This is a victory not only for the bees and other pollinators, but for independent science against the political, pro-pesticide position adopted by UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and the pesticide industry. 

"The European Commission and many European governments have reacted responsibly to the British and European scientific evidence showing clearly that a suspension is justified."

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