A new report by Greenpeace, released today, calls for a Europe-wide ban on pesticides that cause harm to bees.

The study ‘Bees in Decline’ highlights the ecological and economic importance of healthy bee populations and indicates that some pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used in industrial agriculture are harming bee populations.

The study found that honey-bee colony mortality in Europe is at an average of 20% as a result of multiple factors including increasing temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns and the use of industrial “bee-harming chemicals” in the agricultural sector.

The report identifies seven priority pesticides it says should be banned, including Bayer’s imidacloprid and clothianidin, and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam (all neonicotinoids); BASF’s fipronil; and chlorpyriphos, cypermethrin and deltamethrin produced by other agrochemical companies.

“EU countries simply can’t wait any longer and must take immediate action with a complete and immediate ban on these bee killers”

Matthias Wüthrich, Greenpeace

“The science is clear: the negative impacts of bee-harming pesticides by far exceed any presumed benefits. Our bees and wild pollinators are too precious to lose: EU countries simply can’t wait any longer and must take immediate action with a complete and immediate ban on these bee killers,” said Matthias Wüthrich, international bees project leader at Greenpeace.

Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: “Don’t let foot-dragging politicians tell you that they’re standing up for farmers - farming without neurotoxic neonicotinoids is a lot easier than farming without bees, and it’s clear the countries fighting to keep these poisons in the fields are really fighting for the chemical manufacturers.”

Peter Melchett, policy director for the Soil Association, weclomed Greenpeace’s report: “The report confirms our long-standing position, which the UK government seems unable to grasp - namely that farming without neonicotinoids is going to be a lot easier than trying to farm without natural pollinators and honey bees.

“The Greenpeace comprehensive scientific review makes clear that the continuing rapid growth of organic farming in the European Union, despite the economic recession, shows that farming without pesticides ‘is entirely feasible, economically profitable and environmentally safe’.”

‘Simplistic approach’

The NFU’s Chris Hartfield called into question Greenpeace’s approach. “Despite the Greenpeace report highlighting that no single factor can be blamed for declines in bee populations, it goes on to single out a factor by calling for the elimination of ‘bee-harming chemicals’ from agriculture,” he said.

“All chemicals, including water, can harm bees if the dose or exposure is unfavourable. Greenpeace’s overly simplistic approach to this issue provides it with an opportunity to promote farming without any agrochemicals, but fails to consider all the available evidence and in doing so fails to offer a robust way to improve bee health.”

Last week a cross-party committee of MPs called on the UK government to place a two-year moratorium on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides in farming.

The Decline in Bees report forms part of a continent-wide campaign launched by Greenpeace this week to save Europe’s bees.

It says that without insect pollination, up to 75% of crops would suffer some decrease in production and claims that apples, strawberries, tomatoes and almonds would be the crops worst affected.