The European Commission Monday said it would move forward with a temporary suspension of three types of neonicotinoid pesticides amid concerns that the products are endangering bee populations.
The EU member states previously reached no conclusive decision on the issue last month, following release and review of a European Food Safety Report questioning the impact of the three pesticides, clothianidin, thiametoxam and imidacloprid, on bee health.
Because a "qualified majority" was not reached among member states, the decision was deferred to the European Commission, which said it would go ahead with the restrictions, despite an appeals committee vote in which only half of the states supported the proposed ban.
The ban, which will be effective December 1, 2013, prohibits the sale and use of seeds treated with the three nicotinoid pesticides in question, and restricts the use of the products to professionals.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, the pesticides are used mainly on sunflowers, oilseed rape, maize and some cereals.
Top pesticide companies Syngenta and Bayer maintain that the decision poses a threat to agricultural yields, food quality and loss of competitiveness for European agriculture.
"This will have a negative impact on farmers, R&D driven ag companies, the seed industry and the food value chain," Bayer said in a press statement. The company said that scientific evidence has taken a "back seat" in the decision making process.
"This disproportionate decision is a missed opportunity to reach a solution that takes into consideration all of the existing product stewardship measures and broad stakeholder concerns," the company said.
Syngenta also expressed concern about the decision, noting in a press statement that the proposed ban was triggered by a "hurried and highly theoretical review" of the EFSA report.
"[The report] made fundamental mistakes including a serious over-estimation of the amount of pesticide bees are exposed to in the field. It also ignored key studies and independent monitoring, including recent data from the UK Government, which found no evidence that neonicotinoids impact bee health," Syngenta said.
Both groups recently developed action plans to address bee health concerns and aid agreement between the EU member states and the European Commission.
On the other side of the argument, activist group Avaaz campaigned heavily for the ban, which it says "throws bees a vital lifeline."
The group reports that it has a petition for the ban signed by 2.6 million people, and has organized public opinion polls in the UK and Germany that show 71% and 90% of people polled, respectively, support the ban.
European Parliament Environment Committee Chairman Matthias Groote also welcomed the decision, but noted similarly to Syngenta and Bayer, that further research is needed.
"Bees play a key part in our food chain, and face an alarming decline. However, precise data is still lacking. We shall now try to understand how exactly neonicotinoids affect the behavior of bees. We shall also keep in mind that neonicotinoids are not the only threat bees face," Groote said.
The EU Commission also noted that as soon as new information is available, within no longer than two years, the Commission will review the conditions of approval of neonicotinoids and "take into account relevant scientific and technical developments."