Campaigners have hailed a decision by European countries to bring in a near-total ban on pesticides linked to declines in bees as a “major victory”.
European Union member states have decided on a ban on the outdoor use of “neonicotinoid” pesticides after an assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) confirmed in February the dangers they posed to bees.
Use of the three pesticides is already restricted in the European Union on crops such as oil seed rape, because of the concerns they have “sub-lethal” effects such as harming the bees’ ability to forage and form colonies.
Member states have now endorsed proposals by the European Commission to completely ban the outdoor uses of the three active substances, meaning they can only be used in greenhouses.
The Efsa assessment, which looked at the impact on wild solitary bees and bumblebees as well as honey bees, confirmed that most uses of the chemicals pose a risk to the insects.
Last year Environment Secretary Michael Gove had said the UK would back a ban on the neonicotinoids, saying new evidence indicated the risk to bees and other insects from the chemicals was “greater than previously understood”.
Emi Murphy, bee campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “This a major victory for science, common sense and our under-threat bees. The evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides pose a threat to our bees is overwhelming.
“It’s great news that Michael Gove listened to the experts and backed the ban – he must now give farmers the support they need to grow food without bee-harming pesticides.”
Antonia Staats, senior campaigner at Avaaz, which had led a petition backed by five million signatures to ban the chemicals, said: “Banning these toxic pesticides is a beacon of hope for bees.
“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.”
A spokesman for the Environment Department (Defra) said: “We are committed to enhancing our environment for the next generation, and welcome the vote today in support of further restrictions on neonicotinoids.
“The Government has always been clear we will be led by the science on this matter.
“The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids may pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators is greater than previously understood.
“We recognise the impact a ban will have on farmers and will continue to work with them to explore alternative approaches as we design a new agricultural policy outside the European Union.”
European Commission spokeswoman Anca Paduraru told reporters in Brussels that it was hoped the ban will enter into force by the end of the year.
She added that there would be exemptions for the indoor use of neonicotinoids.
“We are banning all outdoor uses, so under strict conditions they might still be used in greenhouses,” she said.