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Europe bans bee-harming pesticides

Concerns about the dramatic decline in bee populations around the world in recent years has resulted in a continent-wide ban in Europe on insecticides that allegedly causes serious harm to bees.

Bees are vital to our ecosystem and food production because they pollinate three-quarters of all crops in the world. This pollination indirectly contributes over €22 billion annually to European agriculture alone. Their decline has been blamed on loss of habitat, diseases and the use of neonicotinoid pesticides by farmers.

The suspension of neonicotinoid pesticides has been backed by both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and environmental campaigners, who have called the ban “a significant victory for common sense.” But the proposal to ban neonicotinoid pesticides was only supported by 15 member states, eight voted no and four member nations abstained, and therefore failed to reach a qualified majority when the 27 EU member states voted on it (a complete list of the countries can be found further down). Because of this failure to reach a majority it was up to the European Commission to decide on the adoption of the proposed ban – a suspension which the commission supported.

Tonio Borg, Health and Consumer Commissioner, said that “although a majority of Member States now supports our proposal, the necessary qualified majority was not reached. The decision now lies with the Commission. Since our proposal is based on a number of risks to bee health identified by the European Food Safety Authority, the Commission will go ahead with its text in the coming weeks,” Borg concluded.

The UK voted against a suspension by arguing that the ban wasn’t supported by science, that it would harm food production and result in increasing costs for farmers. But experts and environmentalists alike discards these arguments. Professor Simon Potts, a bee expert at the University of Reading, said that "the ban is excellent news for pollinators” and that science is clear on the need for a ban. “The weight of evidence from researchers clearly points to the need to have a phased ban of neonicotinoids”, Potts said. “There are several alternatives to using neonicotinoids and farmers will benefit from healthy pollinator populations as they provide substantial economic benefits to crop pollination.”

Environmental campaigners blamed the UK’s vote on heavy lobbying from chemical and agriculture companies. Greenpeace’s chief scientist, Doug Parr, said to the Guardian that "by not supporting the ban, environment secretary, Owen Paterson, has exposed the UK government as being in the pocket of big chemical companies and the industrial farming lobby."

The ban will come into effect from 1 December 2013. The UK, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Austria and Portugal voted no the suspension. Ireland, Lithuania, Finland and Greece abstained from the vote. Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, France, Cyprus, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden voted in favor of the ban.

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