Britain helps prevent ban on pesticides linked to bee decline

Failed vote means substances can continue to be used despite  campaigners’ concerns


Neonicotinoids, the pesticides blamed for declines in bee numbers across the world, can continue to be used in Europe for the time being  after a number of countries including Britain failed to support a ban in a crucial Brussels vote.

To the dismay of environmental campaigners, but to the relief of the pesticide industry and some agricultural scientists, the vote resulted in a stalemate. 13 of the 27 European Union member states voted in favour of a ban, while nine voted against and five, including Britain, abstained.

The arithmetic of the vote meant that the necessary qualified majority – with votes weighted according to member states’ populations – could not be obtained, and so the vote was deemed inconclusive.

However, the question of a ban is likely to be voted on again fairly soon. If the issue remains deadlocked, it is possible that the European Commission, the EU civil service which proposed the ban in the first place, could act to bring one in on its own initiative.

At the very least, the formal vote of all the EU countries means that the issue of neonicotinoids and bee health, which was shrouded in obscurity until fairly recently, is now rising to the top of the international political agenda.

Beekeepers and environmental scientists have become more and more concerned at the mass die-offs of bees seen in recent years, including the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder widely observed in the US. The finger has increasingly been pointed at neonicotinoids, a relatively new class of pesticides manufactured by the giant agribusiness companies Bayer and Syngenta.

More than 30 separate scientific studies in the last three years have shown adverse effects on insects such as bees from the chemicals, which attack insects’ nervous systems, and are ‘systemic’ – meaning they are taken up in every part of the plants to which they are applied. This means that they are not just present on the leaves and seeds which pest insects might eat, but also in the pollen and nectar gathered by bees in the process of pollination.

The proposal for a European ban of the three commonest neonicotinoids – imidacloprid and clothianidin, made by Bayer, and thiamethoxam, made by Syngenta – came from the Brussels Commission after a report from the European Food Safety Authority in January said the substances posed a high risk to bee health.

Britain’s failure to support it had already been signalled by the Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson, who said that the Government wanted to receive the results of its own trials of the effects of neonicotinoids on bees, expected later this year, before taking a firm decision.

Britain was joined in abstaining by Germany, Bulgaria, Estonia and Finland, while the vote for a ban was led by France, Italy and Slovenia – all states which have banned neonicotinoids themselves. Ireland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were among countries which voted against.

Environmental campaigners were dismayed at yesterday’s outcome. “We are very disappointed that the proposed ban has not been approved today,” said Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife. “It was the bare minimum that could have been done to address the high risk to our pollinator populations.

“There is a consensus to stop the damage now, but the pesticides industry and a minority of member states don’t care about the environmental damage and want to prevaricate by pushing for never-ending research projects.”

However John Atkin, chief operating officer of Syngenta, said: “We are pleased that EU member states did not support the European Commission’s shamefully political proposal. Restricting the use of this vital crop-protection technology will do nothing to help improve bee health.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Food Production / Operations Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a large and well ...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Accounts Assistant is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive / Account Manager

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is a small, growing...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant

£12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading online retailer in the Home Im...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas