* Ban proposed over evidence of acute risk to bees
* If no compromise found, Commission free to adopt proposals
* Industry says scientific case against products unproven
By Charlie Dunmore
BRUSSELS, March 15 EU governments failed to
agree a ban on three widely used pesticides linked to the
decline of honeybees on Friday, but the European Commission
could force one through by the summer unless member states agree
A sharp fall in bee populations around the world, partly due
to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, has fuelled
concerns over the impact of widespread use of pesticides,
notably the neonicotinoids class.
Syngeta and Bayer, leading global
producers of neonicotinoids, say the harmful effects on bees is
unproven and that a ban would cost the EU economy billions.
But campaign groups and some scientists accuse governments
of caving into pressure from the agribusiness lobby.
Under EU rules, member states now have two months to reach a
compromise or the Commission will be free to adopt the proposal.
"Forcing through the ban is one of the options available to
us but first we need to reflect politically on the best way to
proceed," said EU health spokesman Frederic Vincent.
The Commission, which could also try to get a majority for a
compromise proposal, put forward the restrictions in January
after the EU's food safety watchdog EFSA said neonicotinoids
posed an acute risk to honeybee health.
However, the survey found no link between use of the
pesticides and the specific problem of colony collapse.
Bees and other insects are crucial in pollinating most crops
in Europe but neonicotinoids are used on more than 8 million
hectares to boost yields of rapeseed, wheat and other staples.
The proposal would ban neonicotinoids on all crops except
winter cereals and plants not attractive to bees, such as sugar
beet. It would apply from July 1, 2013, ensuring this spring's
maize sowing is unaffected, with a review after two years.
Sources close to the discussions said 13 EU governments
favoured a ban and nine voted against. Britain, Germany and
three other states abstained.
"We are pleased that EU member states did not support the
European Commission's shamefully political proposal," said John
Atkin, chief operating officer for Swiss firm Syngeta.
"Restricting the use of this vital crop protection
technology will do nothing to help improve bee health," his
While few deny that neonicotinoids can be harmful to bees,
there are conflicting scientific opinions on the actual threat
they pose under normal growing conditions.
"Of course they can kill bees, they are insecticides; but
whether they actually do this, or whether sub-lethal effects
occur and damage the colonies on any important scale, has not
been proven," said Lin Field, head of biological chemistry at
Britain's Rothamsted Research centre.
Some point to habitat decline and disease-carrying parasites
such as the Varroa mite as the chief cause of bee deaths.
But David Goulson, professor of biological sciences at the
University of Stirling in Scotland, said there was clear
evidence feeding on treated crops was likely to cause bees
"Yet politicians choose to ignore all of this. Presumably
their opinions were swayed by the spurious claims that
restricting use of these insecticides will cause vast economic
losses to farming," he said.
A Syngenta and Bayer funded study showed a blanket ban on
treating seeds with neonicotinoids would cut EU net wheat
exports by 16 percent and lead to a 57 percent rise in maize
imports, costing the EU economy 4.5 billion euros per year.
Separately, researchers have put the financial contribution
of insect pollinators to the EU farming sector at 22 billion
euros ($28.5 billion) a year, and 153 billion euros globally.
Campaign group Avaaz, which has collected more than 2.5
million signatures on a petition for 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.