There's a lot of concern about bee populations in Europe (and around the world). Now, the European Union has voted to ban an insecticide that has been linked to serious harm in bees.
It's the first time a continent-wide ban will be enacted on neonicotinoid pesticides, which environmental activists and experts at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) say are dangerous to bees.
Not everyone agrees that pesticides are to blame. According to the BBC, "many farmers and crop experts argue that there is insufficient data."
Of the 27 member states of the European Union, 15 countries supported the ban.
That isn't a large enough majority to push the ban through under EU voting rules, so the final decision rests with the European Commission (EC), and a source told the Guardian it will act.
"Our proposal is based on a number of risks to bee health identified by the EFSA, [so] the European commission will go ahead with its plan in coming weeks," Tonio Borg, the EU's health and consumer commissioner said. "I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22bn annually to European agriculture, are protected."
As Al Jazeera reports, "Bees account for 80 percent of plant pollination by insects, vital to global food production. Without them, many crops would be unable to bear fruit or would have to be pollinated by hand."
The ban will last for two years, and will apply to three types of pesticides used to treat seeds and soil, as well as flowering crops like corn and sunflowers that bees eat and pollinate.
Millions of people signed an online petition at Avaaz.org to ban neonicotinoids, and activist groups are applauding the ban.
"This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations," said Friends of the Earth's head of campaigns, Andrew Pendleton. "Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators."
But some, including the companies that manufacture the suspended products, are speaking out against the ban.
"The proposal is based on poor science and ignores a wealth of evidence from the field that these pesticides do not damage the health of bees," said a spokesman for Syngenta, which makes one of the three banned substances. "The EC should [instead] address the real reasons for bee health decline: disease, viruses and loss of habitat."
So will this ban actually protect bee populations? The Science Media Centre got reactions from some experts in the field, and it seems like opinions vary.
Professor Lin Field from Rothamsted Research said, "we are concerned that the decision has been made through political lobbying, rather than a comprehensive and sound scientific risk-benefit assessment."
Field also suggests the ban could lead to higher food prices in the UK.
But Dr. Lynn Dicks, a research associate at the University of Cambridge, calls the ban "a victory for the precautionary principle, which is supposed to underlie environmental regulation."
Dicks also says the ban isn't enough by itself: neonicotinoids, she says, "are probably one of many interacting threats" to bee populations, "so a broader approach to protecting insects would be better" than a simple ban.
One professor says the ban should lead farmers to revisit their approach to pesticides more generally.
"It is high time we returned to Integrated Pest Management (IPM) - an approach focussed on minimising pesticide use, maximising the number of biological control agents, using cultural controls such as crop rotations, and monitoring pest numbers so that chemical controls only need be applied when there is a problem," said David Goulson of the University of Sussex.
Via The Guardian
Here are a few other pieces about the importance of bees that you might want to check out.
The Guardian - Loss Of Wild Pollinators Serious Threat To Crop Yields
Los Angeles Times - Farmers' Lack Of Bees Might Be Solved By Going Wild