* Plan includes creating more flowering bee habitats
* More research needed into impact of parasites, viruses
* Syngenta, Bayer say ban would cost billions
* EU states have two months to reach compromise
* Campaigners say put bees before profits from pesticides
(Adds reaction from European Commission, campaigners Avaaz)
By Emma Thomasson
ZURICH, March 28 Syngenta and Bayer
, top producers of the pesticides blamed for a sharp
fall in bee populations around the world, have proposed a plan
to support bee health to try to forestall a European Union ban
on the products.
EU governments failed this month to agree a ban on three
widely used pesticides linked to the decline of honeybees, but
the European Commission is threatening to force one through
unless member states agree a compromise.
The Commission proposed a ban after the EU's food safety
watchdog EFSA said neonicotinoids posed an acute risk to
honeybee health, although it found no link between use of the
pesticides and the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.
"The Commission will wait to see the proposals from the
companies, but as things stand, we believe the opinion from EFSA
provides sufficient evidence to proceed with the proposed
measures," said Commission health spokesman Frederic Vincent.
Syngenta and Bayer, which say the impact of pesticides on
bees is unproven and that a ban would deal a blow to the EU
economy, proposed a plan to help end the stalemate that they
hope will help bees and restore confidence in their products.
Their plan includes the planting of more flowering margins
around fields to provide bee habitats as well as monitoring to
detect the neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for their decline and
more research into the impact of parasites and viruses.
"This comprehensive plan will bring valuable insights into
the area of bee health, whereas a ban on neonicotinoids would
simply close the door to understanding the problem," Syngenta
Chief Operating Officer John Atkin said in a statement.
Bees and other insects are crucial in pollinating most crops
in Europe, but neonicotinoids are used on more than 8 million
hectares to boost yields of rapeseed, wheat and other staples.
Campaign group Avaaz, which has collected more than 2.5
million signatures on a petition for the EU to ban the products,
was sceptical about the Syngenta and Bayer proposals.
"Putting the pesticides industry in charge of protecting
bees, is like putting a fox in charge of a henhouse," campaign
director Alice Jay said in an emailed statement.
"No one knows for certain what's killing our bees, but
leading scientists have powerful evidence pointing to these
pesticides," she said. "Protecting bees and our countryside must
come before the profits of the pesticide industry."
PARASITES OR PESTICIDES?
The EU proposal would ban neonicotinoids on all crops except
winter cereals and plants not attractive to bees, such as sugar
beet. It would apply from July 1, 2013, ensuring this spring's
maize sowing is unaffected, with a review after two years.
While few deny that neonicotinoids can be harmful to bees,
there are conflicting scientific opinions on the threat they
pose under normal growing conditions. Some point to habitat
decline and disease-carrying parasites such as the Varroa mite
as the chief cause of bee deaths.
"Even though all the evidence points to various parasites
and diseases being the true cause of poor bee health, we are
keen to do everything in our power to give consumers confidence
in our products," said Ruediger Scheitza, head of strategy at
The Syngenta and Bayer plan would also include investment in
new technologies to reduce dust emissions from the planting of
seed treated with neonicotinoid products and more research into
ways to fight bee parasites.
A study funded by Syngenta and Bayer has showed a blanket
ban on treating seeds with neonicotinoids would cut EU net wheat
exports by 16 percent and lead to a 57 percent rise in maize
imports, costing the EU economy 4.5 billion euros per year.
Researchers have put the financial contribution of insect
pollinators to the EU farming sector at 22 billion euros a year,
and 153 billion euros globally.
(Additional reporting by Charlie Dunmore in Brussels; Editing
by Tom Pfeiffer and Mark Potter)