The European Commission has taken the strongest action yet in global efforts to protect bee colonies. In May, the commission enacted a two-year moratorium on some uses of some pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which remain in the tissues of plants as they grow and in the pollen harvested by bees. The moratorium is scheduled to take effect on Dec. 1. Pesticide manufacturers should not be allowed to derail it.

Alarmed at declining bee populations over the past 15 years or so, particularly in Western Europe, the commission in 2012 allocated resources to 17 member states to look into why bees were in trouble. It moved to ban neonicotinoids after scientific studies reported by the European Food Safety Authority indicated a strong link between these pesticides and bee health. A new Italian study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States indicates that neonicotinoids at levels found commonly in fields weaken bees’ immunity to viruses.

Two European manufacturers of these pesticides, Bayer CropScience of Germany and Syngenta of Switzerland, have brought legal action against the commission’s decision in the Court of Justice of the European Union. The companies argue that the studies are flawed and that neonicotinoids, when properly used, do not put bees at risk. Scientists are divided. Some fear farmers may use even more lethal pesticides if neonicotinoids are banned.

The United Nations Environment Program has outlined multiple factors affecting bee health. In addition to herbicides and pesticides, threats include habitat degradation, viruses, parasites, pests, air pollution and electromagnetic fields. Apart from the pesticide moratorium, the European Union and a United Nations department in June sponsored the second European Week of Bees and Pollination, bringing together scientists from around the world to assess what should be done to protect bees. The European Union also announced it would invest €13.1 million to promote bee health, improve food security and protect biodiversity in Africa.

In the United States, a group of professional beekeepers and environmental groups filed a lawsuit in March against the Environmental Protection Agency demanding the suspension of two neonicotinoid pesticides. Oregon imposed a temporary ban in June on dinotefuran, a neonicotinoid pesticide, after 50,000 bumblebees died when the pesticide was sprayed on trees in a parking lot. And a bill introduced in Congress, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, would suspend certain uses of neonicotinoid pesticides until the E.P.A. can better determine their role in bee deaths.

The simple fact is that bees pollinate a huge share of food crops. A temporary ban on neonicotinoids is a prudent step. Read