Bee happy: Michael Gove supports new EU ban on harmful pesticides

The UK has voted in favour of a near-total ban on dangerous neonicotinoids.

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Bees of Europe, rejoice! After years of campaigning and debate, the European Union has finally banned the outdoor use of three bee-harming pesticides.

Earlier this year, the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) concluded that the neonicotinoid pesticides in question pose risks to wild bees and honeybees – risks which can include memory damage, a reduction in queen numbers, and harm to entire colonies.

These findings have now helped persuade European governments to extend a 2013 ban, which restricted the use of these substances on flowering-crops, to all open-field crops.

In reassuring news for those concerned about environmental standards after Brexit, the UK was amongst the sixteen member states who voted in favour of the ban.

“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,” said Emi Murphy, a bee campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

But there is still a long way to go to ensure the future viability of global bee populations – as well as the vast ecosystems that depend on them for pollination.

Firstly, there are still many within the farming and chemical industries who oppose the ban, and campaigners fear the three banned substances will simply be replaced with risky alternatives.

“There are many more pesticides out there, including other neonicotinoids, that are just as dangerous for bees and food production,” warned Greenpeace EU food policy adviser Franziska Achterberg.

Secondly, global climate change is shrinking the areas where bees are able to thrive, disrupting the timing of pollen production, and increasing the spread of disease.

With farmers in China already resorting to pollinating crops by hand and by drone, global action on all these issues cannot come soon enough. But for today at least, bees and bee-campaigners alike can bee-happy with the progress the EU has made.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.