Govts undecided on pesticide ban to protect bees


European Union governments failed to reach a decision on whether to ban three widely-used pesticides linked to the decline of honeybees, the European Commission said.

"No qualified majority was reached, either in favour, or against the text," the Commission said in a statement, adding it would now consider the next steps.

Sources close to the discussions said 13 EU governments voted in favour of a ban and nine voted against, with five countries including Britain and Germany abstaining.

Risk to honeybee health

The Commission proposed the ban in January, after the EU's food safety watchdog EFSA said a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids pose an acute risk to honeybee health.

The findings present a dilemma to regulators, as bees and other insects play a crucial role in pollinating most crops grown in Europe, but neonicotinoids are used on more than 8 million hectares (20 million acres) of EU cropland annually to boost yields of rapeseed, wheat and other staples.

The proposal would prohibit the use of neonicotinoids on all crops other than winter cereals and plants not attractive to bees, such as sugar beet. It would apply from July 1, 2013, ensuring that spring maize sowing in Europe this year is not affected.

Under EU rules, member states now have two months to reach a compromise or the European Commission will be free to unilaterally adopt the proposal.

The main producers of neonicotinoids - Switzerland's Syngeta and Germany's Bayer - have described EFSA's assessment as flawed, and say habitat decline and parasites such as the Varroa mite are the chief cause of honeybee decline.

They have funded research showing that a blanket ban on the pesticides could reduce EU net wheat exports by 16% and lead to a 57% increase in the bloc's maize imports.

But campaign group Avaaz, which has collected more than 2.5 million signatures for a petition calling on the European Union to ban the products, accused governments of ignoring public opinion.

"Today, Germany and Britain have caved in to the industry lobby and refused to ban bee-killing pesticides," Avaaz campaigner Iain Keith said in a statement.

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