British politicians may have sided with the insecticide lobby, but that hasn't prevented European campaigners from celebrating a major victory in the fight to save bees this week.
As reported in the Independent, European politicians have just voted for a two-year precautionary ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on flowering crops attractive to bees:
Four nations abstained from the moratorium, which will restrict the use of imidacloprid and clothianidin, made by Germany's Bayer, and thiamethoxam, made by the Swiss company, Syngenta. The ban on use on flowering crops will remain in place throughout the EU for two years unless compelling scientific evidence to the contrary becomes available.
More than 30 separate scientific studies have found a link between the neonicotinoids, which attack insects' nerve systems, and falling bee numbers. The proposal by European Commission - the EU's legislative body - to ban the insecticides was based on a study by the European Food Safety Authority, which found in January that the pesticides did pose a risk to bees' health.
As mentioned in the Independent article, the vote comes on the back of several studies linking bee deaths to neonicotinoid seed insecticide exposure, including a number that showed non-lethal doses increasing bees' vulnerability to other health threats like the nosema parasite.
With Bayer CropScience already on a charm offensive in relation to the beekeeping community, and even handing out "free seeds for bees" with its neonicotinoid products, it comes as no surprise that insecticide makers are less than happy about the decision. A spokesperson for Bayer previously slammed the European Commission's proposed ban as "draconian", while Luke Gibbs, Syngenta's head of corporate affairs for North Europe told the Independent that he was concerned it would overshadow the "real" reasons for bee declines, namely disease, viruses and loss of habitat and nutrition.
The proof now, of course, will be in the pudding. Will the EU ban, which is expected to be fully implemented by December, result in a recovery of bee populations or at least a slowing of their losses?
Thanks to the European Parliament's decision to enact the precautionary principle, scientists should not be short of locations to conduct extensive field trials.