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EU bans outdoor use of pesticides that harm bees

To help protect dwindling bee populations, the European Union votes to restrict farmers from using neonicotinoids on their crops.

Bees just got a helping hand from the European Union who banned outdoor use of harmful pesticides.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

With several types of bees and bumblebees on the endangered-species list, some governments are starting to do their part to protect the lives of these essential pollinators. 

The European Union voted Friday to ban outdoor use of pesticides that harms bees. Specifically, there's now a complete ban on three substances referred to as neonicotinoids: imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. Scientific studies have shown that these substances can harm bees when used outside.

The neonicotinoids mentioned in the new restrictions will be allowed only in permanent greenhouses where no bees are expected to visit. The new restrictions go further in protecting bees than those put in place in 2013 that banned only the use of neonicotinoids used on specific crops.

"The commission had proposed these measures months ago, on the basis of the scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority," Vytenis Andriukaitis, commissioner for health and food safety, said in a statement Friday. "Bee health remains of paramount importance for me, since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment."

Not everyone is happy about the ruling. Bayer Crop Science, the company that developed one of the banned neonicotinoids, said it was a "sad day for farmers and a bad deal for Europe."

The ruling "will not improve the lot of bees or other pollinators," Bayer said in a statement Friday. The decision will further reduce European farmers' ability to tackle important pests, for many of which there are no alternative treatments available."

The new regulations will be adopted by the European Commission in the coming weeks and "become applicable by the end of this year."

While Europe restricts the neonicotinoids used in plant pesticides, the United States is investing in advanced pollination drones to work as a substitute for rapidly declining bee populations

In March, Walmart filed a patent for autonomous robot bees that can pollinate like real bees. The robots are equipped with tiny cameras to help detect and spot the locations of the crops that need pollinating. Sensors on the drones assure that successful pollination takes place. 

Walmart filed another patent for a drone that tracks down plant pests. If successful, it might eradicate the need for farmers to use harmful pesticides. 

Harvard University researchers introduced the first robot bees in 2013. More recently, in 2017, an industrial-design student at Georgia's Savannah College of Art and Design created Plan Bee, a drone controlled by a smart device that artificially pollinates flowers on behalf of bees.

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