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Co-op weighs into battle to save honeybees

Suppliers banned from using eight pesticides

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The Co-op has announced that suppliers of its own-brand produce will henceforth be banned from using eight pesticides "implicated" in Colony Collapse Disorder - the unexplained disappearance of millions of honeybees which has hit hives worldwide.

The supermarket chain said growers on its 70,000 acres of land in in England and Scotland would not "where possible" use the neonicotinoid family of chemicals "until they are shown to be safe", as the Guardian puts it. The Co-op has, the paper notes, since 2001 "prohibited the use of 98 pesticides under its pesticide policy".

Scientific tests have suggested a possible link between one of the banned chemicals, imidacloprid, and disruption of honeybees' "sophisticated communication and navigation systems". France banned its use as a sunflower seed-dressing inseciticide ten years ago, while Germany, Italy and Slovenia last year slapped a blanket ban on the use of neonicotinoids in reponse to the honeybee crisis.

Simon Press, Co-op group senior technical manager, said: "We believe that the recent losses in bee populations need definitive action, and as a result are temporarily prohibiting the eight neonicotinoid pesticides until we have evidence that refutes their involvement in the decline."

The Co-op's pesticide ban forms part of its 10-point Plan Bee, which also includes £150,000 "for research into the impact of pesticides on the decline of honeybees in England". Co-op members and customers will benefit from a bee-friendly wildflower seed giveaway.

The Co-op's campaign does not stop at its own doorstep, however. Its head of social goals, Paul Monaghan, said the government had failed to recognise that "pesticides could be a contributing factor" in the honeybees' dramatic decline.

Elliott Carnell, coordinator of Pesticide Action Network Europe, agreed, accusing: "The government has fought against any attempts to protect bees, which pollinate a third of the average diet. It argues that banning pesticides jeopardises crop yields, but if that was the case why would a leading food retailer be introducing this measure?"

While the government has hedged its bets as to what might be responsible for bee deaths, and prefers not to mention Colony Collapse Disorder, it is not entirely indifferent to the crisis. It recently stumped £4.3m "to safeguard and undertake more research into the health of bees" following the Department for Environment, Food And Rural Affairs' (Defra) decision last year to give "higher priority" to investigating the matter.

Defra's analysis to date is the possible implication of abnormally wet weather - which may have hindered the bees' ability to collect enough food to survive the winter - coupled with the single-celled fungus Nosema, which might have taken advantage of the insects' rain-induced confinement and stressed state to spread with deadly effect. ®

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