Members of the European Parliament [MEPs] have thrown out a Conservative attempt to prevent a full ban on pesticides believed to harm bees.
Julie Girling, who represents south-west England and Gibraltar, said plans for a complete ban were ‘disproportionate’ and could lead to the increased use of other pesticides. She therefore put forward a motion in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee opposing plans to extend restrictions on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides to all crops.
But there is an increasing amount of scientific evidence that shows neonicotinoids cause significant damage to bees. A study, spanning 18 years, published in the journal Nature, linked the use of these chemicals with ‘large-scale population extinctions’ of wild bees in areas where it was used.
Despite this, the National Farmers Union has argued that they need to use pesticides so they can produce plentiful – affordable – food.
Speaking about research regarding pestcides and bees, The NFU’s Bee Health Specialist, Dr Chris Hartfield, has said: “This study is another interesting piece to an unsolved puzzle about how neonicotinoid seed treatments affect bees.
“It does not show that neonicotinoids are causing widespread declines in pollinator populations and it certainly does not show that neonicotinoid use has caused any extinction of bees in England.
“While this study claims to provide an important contribution to the evidence base underpinning the current EU moratorium on some uses of neonicotinoids, experts reviewing all the evidence have concluded that there are still major gaps in our knowledge and a limited evidence base to guide policymakers.”
This attitude has been criticised. Nick Mole, of the Pesticide Action Network UK, said: “How much more proof, more evidence, does the NFU need? Are they waiting until there are no more bees?”
A 2013 partial ban on three neonicotinoids is expected to be extend this to all crops later this year by the European Commission. While MEPs lack the power to prevent the expansion of this legislation, voting against it means the issue is brought to the fore for the Commission.
Girling’s attempt to block this ban was unpopular – just eight MEPs voted in favour, with seven abstentions, and 43 voting against her proposal.
However, 43 MEPs voted against Ms Girling’s attempt to block the full ban, with just eight in favour and seven abstentions.
Environmentalists are pleased by the outcome of the vote, with Sandra Bell, a nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, saying: “We’re delighted MEPs are backing our bees and have overwhelmingly rejected this attempt to oppose a complete ban on bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides.
“There is mounting scientific evidence supporting the European Commission’s proposal to extend the ban to more crops, and this should now be backed by national governments.’