An EU ban on pesticides believed to kill bees will mean “significant costs” for British farmers, the Government warned tonight.
Environment Minister Lord de Mauley issued the warning after the European Commission decided to go ahead with a two year ban on a type of pesticides called neonicotinoids in a bid to save bees.
Earlier EU countries had failed to reach agreement on a ban as some countries believe there is not enough evidence to justify it.
The UK, which was one of those opposing the ban, insists better scientific evidence is needed of the link between pesticides and a huge decline in the bee population before taking such action.
Environment Minister Lord de Mauley said in a statement: “Having a healthy bee population is a top priority for us but we did not support the proposal for a ban because our scientific evidence doesn’t support it.
“Significant countries agree with us that a ban is not the right action to take and we will work with them to get much better evidence.
“We will now work with farmers to cope with the consequences as a ban will carry significant costs for them.”
Some 15 countries backed a ban on neonicotinoids, with Britain among eight opposing it and another four members abstaining.
With no overall majority achieved, the European Commission is using its right to make the final decision, now two votes have failed to clear the hurdle.
It means the use of three of the world’s most widely-used pesticides will be restricted.
The decision is a major victory for environmental campaigners who had raised concerns about the dramatic decline in bee populations.
Bees are essential for the growing of fruit and some other produce as they pollenate flowers and allow plants to reproduce.
The ban is a blow to chemical companies who make billions from selling neonicotinoids, and to British ministers who have fought a ban.
EU health and consumer commissioner Tonio Borg said: “Since our proposal is based on a number of risks to bee health identified by the European Food Safety Authority, the commission will go ahead with its text in the coming weeks.
“I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22bn euros (£18.5bn) annually to European agriculture, are protected.”
In Britain, the coalition has fiercely resisted any ban on “neonicotinoids” because it argues that the science about the damage to bee levels is inconclusive.
Friends of the Earth said the vote was a “significant victory for bees and common sense”.
Head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said: “Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.”
Bee numbers have been devastated across Europe in recent years, with a subsequent steep rise in honey prices for consumers.
Major fears have also been raised about pollination problems for trees if bee populations continue to slide.
Last Friday beekeepers and their supporters staged a demonstration in London, urging Britain to support the pesticide ban but it still voted against it.
The pesticides suspected of harming bees are chiefly produced by two firms, Bayer of Germany and Sygenta in Switzerland, which is the top player in the global agrichemical market.
The companies have rejected claims that their products are at fault and say studies behind the suggested ban are based on flawed science.