The restriction will prevent the use of three neonicotinoid products - clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam - in seed treatment, soil application (granules) and foliar treatment on plants and cereals (with the exception of winter cereals) that are attractive to bees.
The remaining authorised uses are available only to professionals, with exceptions limited to possible treatment of bee-attractive crops in greenhouses and open-air fields only after flowering, the Commission said.
The Commission formally adopted the restrictions on Friday. They will come into force on December 1 and be reviewed, at the latest, within two years.
Member states must now withdraw or amend existing authorisations to comply with the new restrictions by September 30. They can, however, allow the use of existing stocks until November 30.
The restrictions, pushed through by the Commission after a vote by member states failed to reach the necessary qualified majority on April 29, reflects concerns that neonicotinoid products are harmful to bees.
The scientific basis for the ban was a report by the European Food Safety Authority, which concluded that the three products pose a ‘high risk’ to honey bees in crops producing nectar and pollen.
But this conclusion is hotly disputed by the UK Government, which claims, while laboratory studies show high doses of the chemicals are harmful to bees, there is no evidence that the pesticides harm bees when used in the field. The UK called for more field studies to be undertaken to establish the real risk before a decision on any ban was made.
But commenting on Friday, EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said: “Last month, I pledged that, based on the number of risks identified by the European Food Safety Authority’s scientific opinion, I would do my utmost to ensure that our honeybee population is protected.
“Today’s adoption delivers on that pledge and marks another milestone towards ensuring a healthier future for our honeybees, as bees have two important roles to play: not only that of producing honey but primarily to be a pollinator.
“About 80 % of all pollination is due to the activity of bees - this is natural and free of costs.”
He said the measure was part of the Commission’s overall strategy to tackle the decline of Europe’s bee population.
The Commission acknowledged that pesticides have been identified as ‘one of several factors which may be responsible for the decline in number of bees’.
Other factors also include parasites, other pathogens, lack of veterinary medicines or sometimes their misuse, apiculture management and environmental factors such as lack of habitat and feed and climate change.
Last week, former Chief Government Scientist Professor Sir John Beddington accused EU policymakers of misusing the precautionary principle in their approach to the usage of pesticides like neonicotinoids.
For more information on the Commission policy click here
For EFSA’s view click here