UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced the government supports a total ban on bee-harming pesticides in the countryside across Europe.
In a reversal of the government’s previous position on “neonicotinoid” pesticides, Gove said new evidence indicated the risk to bees and other insects from the chemicals was “greater than previously understood”.
Here are the answers to some of the key questions.
They are commonly applied in a coating on the seeds and taken up by the plant into its roots, stems, leaves and flowers. They are transmitted into pest species when they feed on them, acting on the insect’s nervous system, causing paralysis and death.
Environmentalists also say the chemicals can run off into streams, rivers and the wider environment where they can affect other wild plants and creatures.
Pollinating insects are a key part of the agricultural system in the countryside, boosting yields and quality of many fruits, vegetables and other produce.
They are also a significant part of food chains in the natural world, and how populations of insects are doing is a key indicator of the health of the wider environment.
The European Commission has proposed extending the ban to all crops outside greenhouses, which would include crops such as sugar beet and seed treatments for winter cereals.
Gove’s announcement signals support for this move, which could be voted on in Brussels in the next few months, with a ban coming in six months later.
If the restrictions are brought in, it remains to be seen what farmers – who say they need the chemicals to protect their crops – will use instead, with concerns raised that they may switch to other harmful pesticides.