Brussels (AFP) - European Union countries voted on Friday in favour of a near-total ban on neonicotinoid insecticides which are blamed for an alarming collapse in bee populations.
The move comes after the European food safety agency said in February that most uses of the chemicals posed a risk to bees, prompting environmentalists to push the 28-nation EU to immediately outlaw them.
Bees help pollinate 90 percent of the world's major crops, but in recent years have been dying off from "colony collapse disorder," a mysterious scourge blamed on mites, pesticides, virus, fungus, or a combination of these factors.
Campaigners dressed in black and yellow bee suits rallied outside the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels ahead of the vote for a ban on three key pesticide chemicals.
EU Environment Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said he was "happy that member states voted in favour of our proposal" to restrict the chemicals and tweeted a picture of the activists.
A Commission statement said EU states had "endorsed a proposal by the European Commission to further restrict the use of three active substances... for which a scientific review concluded that their outdoor use harms bees."
The pesticides -- clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam -- are based on the chemical structure of nicotine and attack the nervous systems of insect pests.