EU passes total ban on bee-harming pesticides

April 27, 2018, 3:34 p.m.
Protesters outside the EU Commission in Brussels encouraging a ban on pesticides
Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Bees just got a boost from the European Commission, which voted to ban the use of all insecticides that pose a risk to the popular pollinators.

The ban, expected to come into force by the end of 2018, prohibits the use of the nicotine-derived pesticides except in closed greenhouses where bees are unlikely to come into contact with the plants. In 2013, the EU announced a two-year ban on neonicotinoids on flowering crops, but the new law goes much farther.

The ban comes on the heels of a study published in February by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which found harm from the neonicotinoids varied, but that "for all the outdoor uses, there was at least one aspect of the assessment indicating a high risk." The report highlighted that neonicotinoid exposure was less likely to be the result of direct contact but occurred instead through water and soil contamination. The new ban is broader as a result.

Supporters of the ban gathered in bee-themed outfits and carried signs outside of the commission's building in Brussels.

"Banning these toxic pesticides is a beacon of hope for bees," said Antonia Staats of Avaaz, a campaign group. "Finally, our governments are listening to their citizens, the scientific evidence and farmers who know that bees can’t live with these chemicals and we can’t live without bees."

Pesticide manufacturing companies and some farming groups greeted the news less warmly.

"The Commission hasn't been able to find that these restrictions have delivered any measurable benefits for bees," Chris Hartfield from the National Farmers' Union in the U.K. told BBC News. "That has been a big question for us, and if we can't be certain they can deliver measurable benefits, why are we doing this?"

The more limited 2013 ban is still undergoing a legal challenge, with a verdict expected in mid-May. It's unclear what impact a ruling against that ban would have on this one.

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