BRUSSELS The European Commission is considering law to ban pesticides linked to the decline of bees, a spokesman said on Friday.
A report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) earlier this month said three widely-used pesticides made by Switzerland's Syngenta and Germany's Bayer posed an acute risk to honeybees.
"We could advocate measures. The Commission is looking at all the facts and the responses from the companies," its health spokesman Frederic Vincent said on Friday.
"We have to take into account what is feasible and what could be the time-table, so we're not in a rush, but we will have to reflect on this issue. The planting season is a bit further down the road."
Fears about the effects on bees of neonicotinoid insecticides - among the most commonly-used crop pesticides - led France to withdraw approval in June last year for Syngenta's Cruiser OSR, used to treat rapeseed crops.
Other EU states - Germany, Slovenia and the Netherlands - have introduced restrictions on pesticides and calls have got louder for EU-wide action. Options include banning some substances for some crops, rather than a blanket ban.
"It's time now for the Commission to act," said British Liberal Democrat politician Chris Davies, a member of the European Parliament, which debated honeybees this week.
RISK OF INACTION
EU scientific advisers, the European Environment Agency (EEA), which analyses data and evidence to guide policymakers, issued a report this week on the risks industry and governments take through reluctance to act on early evidence.
Among the case studies the EEA report assesses is the slow policy response to evidence neonicotinoids harm bees.
French beekeepers reported worrying bee behavior after the use of neonicotinoids to treat sunflower seeds in 1994. They said bees were found disorientated or dead in front of their hives.
Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA, said there was now a decade's worth of studies showing the serious risk to bee health.
"What the honeybee represents is the great integrator in the environment," McGlade told Reuters. That it is under threat is an "alarm bell of harm" to insects, birds and plants.
Apart from concerns about insecticides, she said other threats to the bee population were viruses and climate change.
EFSA's report said pesticide residues in the pollen and nectar of plants treated with the three chemicals meant they should only be used on crops not attractive to honeybees, such as sugarbeet. That would exclude their use on maize, rapeseed and sunflower crops.
A 2011 U.N. report estimated that the work of bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, beetles and birds, in pollinating fruit, vegetable and other crops was worth 153 billion euros ($204.62 billion) a year to the world economy.
A report this month - commissioned by ECPA and the EU farmers' association COPA-COGECA - found that current treatment of seeds using the three pesticides boosted EU commodity crop revenues by more than 2 billion euros a year, and said 50,000 farm jobs could be lost if the products were banned.
(Editing by James Jukwey)