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29/04/2013 14:26 BST | Updated 29/04/2013 14:30 BST

EU Agrees To Protect Bees From Pesticides, But Britain Votes Against

Britain has been strongly criticised for not backing a ban on pesticides feared to be killing bees with environmentalists claiming the government is in the 'pocket of big chemical companies and the industrial farming lobby'.

A ban on the pesticides looked to be step closer after a majority of EU governments backed the move fiercely resisted by the UK coalition.

bees

Bees are thought to be under threat from some pesticides

After a vote in Brussels on Monday, Greenpeace urged the European Commission to act swiftly to introduce the ban for at least two years on three pesticides the organisation says have been shown scientifically to be harmful to bees.

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

"Those countries opposing a ban have failed. Now, the Commission must draw the only conclusion possible and immediately halt the use of these pesticides as a first step to protect European food production and ecosystem."

Greenpeace’s Chief Scientist Dr Doug Parr said: “By not supporting the ban, Owen Paterson has exposed the UK government as being in the pocket of big chemical companies and the industrial farming lobby.

"Government policy should be evidence-based and the evidence in this case is clear– these pesticides are badly affecting bees. That Mr Paterson chose to ignore it does not bode well.”

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The UK government has come under fire for repeatedly opposing a ban on "neonicotinoids" used on crops such as oil seed rape, which are attractive to bees.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson has urged delays in deciding until more studies are completed into the effects on bees.

But today EU deputy ambassadors voted by a majority to accept the available evidence, which many say confirms the danger to bees.

Friends of the Earth said the vote was a "significant victory for bees and common sense" - and urged the UK government to introduce a "bee action plan".

FoE head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said: "This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations. Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.

"But pesticides are just one of the threats bees face - if David Cameron is genuinely concerned about declining bee numbers he must urgently introduce a bee action plan."

On the UK's lack of support for a ban, Mr Pendleton added: "The UK government's refusal to back restrictions on these chemicals, despite growing scientific concern about their impact, is yet another blow to its environmental credibility.

"Ministers must now help farmers to grow and protect crops, but without relying so heavily on chemicals - especially those linked to bee decline."

FoE says it has played a major role in persuading home and garden retailers to act on neonicotinoid insecticides, with firms including B&Q, Homebase, Wyevale and Dobbies removing such products from their shelves.