PARIS (Reuters) - France said it plans to ban a pesticide made by Swiss group Syngenta, which is used to treat rapeseed, after scientists suggested it could pose a danger to bees.
A sharp decline in bee populations across the world in recent years, partly due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, has prompted criticism of pesticide use, although research has yet to show clearly the causes of falling bee numbers.
France intends to withdraw the permit of the Cruiser OSR pesticide used for coating rape seeds, pending a two-week period during which Syngenta can submit its own evidence, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said on Friday.
The decision was based on a report from French health and safety agency ANSES, which went along with the findings of a recent scientific study suggesting that a low dose of thiamethoxam, a molecule contained in Cruiser, made bees more likely to lose their way and die.
Syngenta could not immediately be reached for comment.
In a statement at the end of March when the research was published in the journal Science, the company had said the doses applied were far higher than in real conditions and that there was no evidence of colony decline linked to Cruiser.
"To protect rapeseed plants there exist alternatives to coating seeds that are already widely used. If the withdrawal of the authorization (for Cruiser OSR) is confirmed, farmers will therefore have solutions to call on," Le Foll said in a statement.
France is the largest crop producer in the European Union and with Germany is the leading grower of rapeseed, an oilseed used for making vegetable oil and biodiesel fuel.
The ban on the pesticide will take effect before the start of the next rapeseed sowing campaign in late summer, a farm ministry official added, stressing that it would not affect other versions of Cruiser used for maize and to spray rapeseed.
France also has asked the European Commission to reconsider its criteria for authorizing Cruiser for rapeseed ahead of the next sowing campaign, Le Foll said.
The planned ban marks one of the first decisions of Le Foll, who became farm minister last month after the election of Socialist Francois Hollande as president, although the review by ANSES was ordered by his predecessor Bruno Le Maire.
In its report, ANSES said while exposure of bees to thiamethoxam in actual field conditions was lower than in the recent study on bee navigation, a similar level could not be excluded in some circumstances.
More research is needed at European level on the impact on bees as well as a broader review of the neonicotinoid family of substances to which thiamethoxam belongs, it said.
In a separate opinion published on Friday, the European Food Safety Authority said doses of neonicotinoids tested in the bee research were above the highest residue levels actually recorded in plant nectar, adding that more studies were needed to evaluate exposure in different field situations.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; additional reporting by Charlie Dunmore in Brussels and Martin De Sa'Pinto in Zurich, editing by Jane Baird)