European bees get a chance at sweeter, safer life

The European Commission decided to go ahead with a controversial ban on three bee-harming pesticides, even though the EU's voting countries did not reach a weighted majority on the measure.

BRUSSELS — The European Commission said on Monday it would go ahead and impose a temporary ban on three of the world's most widely used pesticides because of fears they harm bees, despite European Union governments failing to agree on the issue.

In a vote on Monday, EU officials could not decide whether to impose a two-year ban — with some exceptions — on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, produced mainly by Germany's Bayer and Switzerland's Syngenta.

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The commission proposed the ban in January after EU scientists said the chemicals posed an acute risk to honeybees, which pollinate many of the crops grown commercially in Europe. It said it would go ahead with partial restrictions anyway.

Pesticide manufacturers and some scientists say no link has been proved between the use of neonicotinoids and a sharp decline in bee numbers in Europe in recent years — a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.

In total, 15 EU countries voted in favor — two more than the last time governments voted on the issue in March — but they failed to reach the weighted majority needed to adopt the ban outright, meaning the decision passed to 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," EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said after the vote.

The ban will apply to the use of neonicotinoids on all crops except winter grains and plants not attractive to bees, such as sugar beet. It would apply from Dec. 1, 2013, five months later than originally proposed by the commission.

Reporting by Charlie Dunmore.




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