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EU to ban pesticides linked to bee deaths
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) April 29, 2013

Bees: Nature's little helpers under threat
Paris (AFP) April 29, 2013 - Bees play a key role in human food production, pollinating more than two-thirds of the world's 100 most important crop species and providing a free service valued at tens of billions of euros.

They account for about 80 percent of pollination by insects, say agriculture agencies. Without bees, many plant and animal species would disappear and farmers would be left to fertilise crops by hand.

Yet bee numbers have slumped in Europe and the United States in the past 15-odd years due to a worrying phenomenon dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD).

The mysterious plague, often characterised by a rapid loss of adult worker bees, has been blamed on everything from agricultural pesticide use, a loss of wild bee habitat, a virus or fungus, mites -- or a combination.

The disorder has killed off about 30 percent of bees annually since 2007.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, a third of the food we eat depends on bee pollination.

Some economists have valued the pollination services of insects, mainly bees, at about $190 billion (145 billion euros).

Bees transfer pollen that gets stuck on their hairy bodies while feeding on nectar from the male parts of flowers to the female parts.

European honeybees can make between seven and 14 trips a day, visiting dozens of flowers each time, according to an FAO background document.

A small colony with 25,000 forager bees, each making 10 trips a day, could pollinate 250 million flowers.

Types of plants that depend on honeybee pollination include apple and apricot trees, avocados, blackberries, cabbage, carrot, cotton, eggplant, melon, onion, strawberry and watermelon.

Drawing a link between the sudden northern hemisphere bee decline and pesticides like the ones now being banned by the European Union, has been controversial and vehemently denied by the agrochemical industry.

But in March, a study in the journal Nature Communications said some pesticides could scramble the brain circuits of honeybees -- affecting memory and navigation skills needed to find food and causing colony collapse.

According to the American Beekeeping Federation's website, an average worker honey bee lives about six to eight weeks in summer -- during which time each produces about one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey.

Each bee can fly the equivalent of one-and-a-half times the circumference of the Earth in a lifetime.

A healthy colony can have as many as 80,000 bees in the peak summer period, with the queen laying as many as 3,000 eggs per day.

The European Union was set to impose a two-year ban on three pesticides linked to bee deaths after a majority of member countries voted in favour of a moratorium on Monday.

A key committee of experts cleared the way for the European Commission to impose a proposed ban on insecticides blamed for a sharp decline in bee populations, when 15 nations voted in favour, with eight against and four abstentions.

"I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22 billion euros annually to European agriculture, are protected," said EU health commissioner Tonio Borg.

It would be the world's first continent-wide ban on the chemicals.

The insecticides -- imidacloprid and clothianidin produced by German Bayer, and thiamethoxam, made by Switzerland's Syngenta -- are used to treat seeds, and applied to soil or sprayed on bee-attractive plants and cereals.

The ban will apply from December 1, the Commission said.

Bees account for 80 percent of plant pollination by insects, vital to global food production. Without them, many crops would be unable to bear fruit or would have to be pollinated by hand.

Although a majority of nations voted to save Europe's bees, under the EU's complex voting system that takes the population into account, the vote was 187 for, 125 against and 33 abstentions -- short of a qualified majority but leaving the ultimate decision in the hands of the Commission.

"The decision now lies with the Commission," Borg said. "Since our proposal is based on a number of risks to bee health identified by the European Food Safety Authority, the Commission will go ahead with its text in the coming weeks."

Countries opposed to the ban, including Britain and Hungary, failed to muster enough support to block the Commission's proposed moratorium despite intense lobbying from pharmaceutical groups and farmers.

"Today's vote makes it crystal clear that there is overwhelming scientific, political and public support for a ban," said Greenpeace's Marco Contiero.

Germany, which in a previous vote had abstained and was under heavy pressure from pharmaceutical firms and farmers to fight the proposal, also voted in favour.

Pesticide producers Bayer of Germany and Switzerland's Sygenta, the top player on the global agrichemical market, have rejected claims that their products are at fault in the fall of bee numbers and say studies behind the suggested ban are based on flawed science.

In the countdown to Monday's decision, battle-lines sharpened between environmentalists defending the bees, and farmers and pharmaceutical firms opposed to the ban on pesticides from the so-called "neonicotonoid" family.

Internet-based global campaigner Avaaz, which has gathered 2.5 million signatures to save the insect, floated a giant plastic honey bee over EU headquarters to hammer home its message.

Copa Cogeca, which represents European farmers and European agri-cooperatives, last week said even a temporary ban would cause 2.8 billion euros of losses to farmers and a further 2.0 billion to the EU economy due to a fall in seed production and rising feed costs due to a need to increase imports.

In February, a study published in the Journal of Science showed that falling numbers of wild bees and other pollinating insects are hurting global agriculture.

The gathering of Monday's "appeals committee" was called after an EU vote earlier this year failed to produce a large enough majority in favour of a proposal by theCommission for a two-year moratorium on the allegedly deadly pesticides.

The Commission demanded their ban for use on four major crops -- maize (corn), rape seed, sunflowers and cotton -- after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) earlier this year said they posed "disturbing" risks to bees and other pollinating insects vital for human food production.

The 15 nations that voted in favour of the ban were -- Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden.

Eight nations voted against -- Austria, Britain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia -- and four abstained -- Ireland, Greece, Lithuania, Finland.


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EU set to ban pesticides blamed for decline of bees: source
Brussels (AFP) April 25, 2013
The EU appears set to impose a two-year ban on the use of insecticides blamed for a sharp and worrying decline in bee populations, an EU source said Thursday. A committee of experts is due to vote Monday on the ban in an effort to protect bees and other insects which play an indispensible role in food production through plant pollination. A vote earlier this year failed to produce a larg ... read more

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