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EU backs lower residue limits for bee-harming pesticides

BRUSSELS, Sept 27 (Reuters) - European Union governments have agreed to reduce the residue limits for two pesticides that harm bees, a move that will mainly impact agricultural producers seeking to export food or animal feed to the bloc.

The 27 EU members backed a proposal from the European Commission to lower maximum residue limits for clothianidin and thiamethoxam, two neonicotinoid pesticides the European Food Safety agency says pose a high risk to pollinators.

Outdoor use of the two pesticides, along with imidacloprid, was banned across the bloc in 2018, although many EU countries have granted "emergency" authorisation for their use for sugar beet. Producers say residues disappear before harvest.

The new law will seek to drive the EU's aim to move towards more environmentally friendly farming, while respecting its obligations to the World Trade Organization.

"The use of these two neonicotinoids has already been discontinued in the EU. Today, we are taking a further step, contributing to the transition towards sustainable food systems, also on the global stage," EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a statement.

The new rules, due to come into force early in 2023, will lower the maximum residues for these substances in imported food and animal feed to the lowest level that can be measured with current technology.

Food business operators and third countries will have up to three years to adapt to the new rules.

Environmental campaign group Generations Futures said in a report that studies in 2017 had found residues in multiple imported products from Chinese teas to Thai aubergines as well as in French, Spanish and Portuguese fruit and vegetables.

The regulation will enter into force unless the European Parliament or the grouping of EU countries known as the Council raise objections in the next two months. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; additional reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris, Editing by William Maclean)

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