A group of insect-killing sprays known as neonicotinoids that are widely used in UK farming have now been banned in four other European countries because they are thought to be killing bees, according to the UK Soil Association which has written to the UK Environment Secretary of State, Hilary Benn urging him to immediately ban the sprays in the UK.
Italy has joined Germany, Slovenia and France in banning the sprays with the Italian government issuing an immediate suspension of them after it was accepted they are killing bees, the Soil Association said.
"There is worldwide concern at widespread, unexplained and devastating deaths of honey bees over the last two years," the association said in a press release.
Bee keepers have reported potentially catastrophic loss of bees from their hives ranging anywhere from 30-90 percent. Britainís beekeepers have reported that close to one in three hives have failed to make it through last winter and spring.
"This "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD) is not just a problem for beekeepers and farmers, but for consumers as well, since bee pollination is essential for crop production".
The US Department of Agriculture says that one out of every three mouthfuls of food is dependant on bee pollination, and globally up to two-thirds of all major crops rely on pollination, mainly by bees.
The products implicated in bee deaths, clothianidin, imidacloprid, fipronil and thiamethoxam, are approved to kill insects on a wide range of crops in the UK including very widely grown oilseed rape, barley, and sugar beet. They are also cleared for use in ornamental plant and hop production. The use of the chemicals on oilseed rape is of particular concern, as the cropís yellow flowers are very attractive to honey bees, and the crop has become popular with bee keepers.
Soil Association Policy Director, Peter Melchett said it was typical of the lax approach to pesticide regulation in the UK that it looks like being one of the last of the major farming countries in the EU to wake up to the threat they pose to honey bees.
"The UK Government is almost alone in the EU in fighting against proposed new, tighter European controls on farm sprays, and in the light of what has happened to honey bees, we are calling on Hilary Benn to back European proposals for tighter controls on farm sprays, he said."
Since their introduction by Bayer CropScience in the USA in 2003, the neonicotinoid sprays have been linked to the devastating loss of millions of honey bees in a number of countries.
Germany banned the pesticides after beekeepers in the Baden-Wurttenberg region reported that two thirds of their bees died in May following the application of clothianidin.
In 1995 bee keepers in North Dakota took Bayer to court when a third of their bees were killed by imacloprid. In France, a third of the honey bee population was killed after widespread use of imidacloprid.
Organic farming relies on a number of techniques to avoid the use of sprays that kill insects, including not growing the same or similar crops every year, and encouraging natural predators of insect pests (like wild birds, ladybirds and lacewings). Under Soil Association organic rules, only four sprays can be used, compared to over 300 available to non-organic farmers.