A majority of EU member states have backed proposals to restrict the use of a fourth insecticide that scientists have found is harmful to honeybees.
Experts from 23 countries said they were behind the plans to ban fipronil, which the European Food Safety Authority said in May poses “a high acute risk” to the creatures when used on maize crops.
The UK, which was one of eight nations that voted against banning three neonicotinoid insecticides recently, chose to abstain from this latest vote along with two Slovakia and Czech Republic. Two members, Spain and Romania, said they were against.
EU countries were voting to restrict the crops that fipronil can be used on, and to forbid the treatment of maize and sunflower seeds with the chemical. The chemical is already banned for use as a pesticide in over two-thirds of EU countries.
The European commission will adopt the measure in the coming weeks, after which a restriction will be applied from December 31. The ban on neonicotinoids begins on December 1.
Tonio Borg, EU health commissioner, said, “A few weeks ago, in the aftermath of the restriction on use of neonicotinoids, I pledged to do my utmost to protect Europe’s honeybee population and today’s agreement with member states not only delivers on that pledge, but marks another significant step in realising the commission’s overall strategy to tackling Europe’s bee decline.”
Campaign group Greenpeace, which has been at the forefront of calls to save the bees, said the evidence points towards the need for a “full precautionary ban” on fipronil. It added that these latest proposals, which would allow fipronil to be used under certain conditions in greenhouses, for example, were not sufficient.
Meanwhile BASF, a leading chemicals company that manufactures fipronil among other things, said the ruling would not spell an end to the bee decline.
“The decision regarding fipronil was derived from an assessment that focused heavily on new technical areas for which no established regulatory evaluation criteria are yet available”, said Jürgen Oldeweme, a senior vice-president in BASF’s crop protection division.
“Moreover, sound data from field studies that underpin the safe use of our product for bees were not considered sufficiently.
“We are certain that Europe can achieve both – the protection of pollinators and the support of European agriculture – but for that all stakeholders must engage in a comprehensive action plan to address the real root causes of the decline in bee health.”
In June in the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched a national strategy to tackle the honeybee population decrease. Campaigners called for the proposals to be implemented before next spring.