In a reversal of the Government's previous position on neonicotinoid pesticides, Michael Gove said new evidence indicated the risk to bees and other insects was “greater than previously understood”.
In 2013, the European Commission proposed a ban on three neonicotinoids for use on flowering crops such as oil seed rape, which are attractive to bees, after authorities identified risks to honey bees.
The UK Government opposed the ban, claiming there was not enough evidence that bees were harmed by the pesticides, but other member states disagreed and the ban was implemented across the EU.
Writing in The Guardian, Mr Gove said he believed the evidence base had “grown”, and the UK would back a new proposal by the European Commission to extend the ban to non-flowering crops.
He said: “While there is still uncertainty in the science, it is increasingly pointing in one direction.
“Not to act would be to risk continuing down a course which could have extensive and permanent effects on bee populations.
“That is not a risk I am prepared to take, so the UK will be supporting further restrictions on neonicotinoids. Unless the evidence base changes again, the Government will keep these restrictions in place after we have left the EU.”
Mr Gove said he was “deeply concerned” by a recent study into the health of some insect populations, which revealed 75% of flying insects in Germany had disappeared.
He added that bees and other pollinators were “absolutely critical” to the natural world, and that a deteriorating environment is also bad for the economy.
Last month a study found that three-quarters of the honey produced around the world contains nerve agent pesticides that can harm bees.
Scientists who tested 198 honey samples from every continent except Antarctica discovered that 75% were laced with at least one of the neonicotinoid chemicals.
Environmental campaigners responded by demanding a “complete and permanent” ban preventing any further use of neonicotinoids on farm crops in Europe.
A total ban would have an impact on cereal growers in the UK who use pesticides to protect their crops.
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