|Dwindling numbers: Bee colonies are in huge decline|
in the UK and it is feared pesticides could be to blame
Number of honeybees has halved since 1980s
The safety of a new generation of powerful pesticides is being evaluated amid fears they are to blame for Britain's vanishing bees.
The chemicals, which are routinely used on farms and garden centres, attack the central systems of insects and make bee colonies more vulnerable to disease and pests.
The position of the UK government has always been that the chemicals, which are used on 2.5million acres of farmland, have been tested and proven to be safe.
However, it has emerged that Professor Robert Watson, the chief scientist at the food and farming department, DEFRA, has asked officials to examine new research findings.
A study carried out at the US Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory pointed the finger at the pesticides which are known as neo-nicotinoids.
Scientists have been struggling for decades to understand the disappearance of honeybees, where numbers have halved since the 1980s.
|Dying out: Honey bees are believed to be decimated by powerful new pesticides|
The chemicals, which were introduced in the 1990s, are applied to seeds and are found in low levels throughout a growing plant - including in its pollen and nectar.
They were introduced to replace controversial organophosphates because they appeared to be harmless to mammals and people. They are used on oil seed rape, wheat, sugar bed and garden centre plants.
The US research has yet to be published, but is discussed in a new documentary film The Strange Disappearance of The Bees.
Professor Watson has asked officials in his department to evaluate the findings in an attempt to establish any link with the decline in bee numbers.
'I’ve got people in the bee-health pollinating area and people in pesticides to review the literature for me and to come back to me exactly on this issue,' he said.
'It’s clear that we have to be concerned generally about bees and other pollinators.
'There is a genuine concern that if indeed there were to be a serious decline in the various pollinators, it could have implications for agriculture, no question.'
Officials said the investigation does not amount to a full safety review.
Bees are vital to the nation's food supply because of the role they play in pollinating crops. There have long been suspicions that industrial farming methods, including heavy use of chemicals, is a factor in their decline.
Insect charity Buglife said previous studies in France had found a link between pesticides and vanishing bees.
Director Matt Shardlow said: 'The American study shows that even at levels where you can no longer detect the substance in bees, it is still having an impact on their health.
'People have been wondering what is the cause of the decline of bees and moths and bumblebees in Britain. And the research is further evidence that pesticides are a potential cause.'
The Co-op is so concerned about neo-nicotinoids it has banned them on its UK farms.
Bayer - the German chemical giant that makes many of the neo-nicotinoids used in Europe - insisted its products do not harm bees.
A spokesman said the experience of using the chemicals in the field will be very different to any effects seen in small scale laboratory tests.
'Bees are very very important insects to BayerCropScience,' he said.
|Neo-nicotinoids can attack the central systems of insects and make bee colonies more vulnerable to disease and pests|