EU countries voted on Friday for a near-total ban on insecticides blamed for killing off bee populations.

The ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides was approved by the EU 28 following the recommendation of the European food safety agency in February that suggested these chemicals pose a risk to honey bees and wild bees. The decision was hailed by EU Environment Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.

After two decades of continuous use in agriculture, the use of nicotinoids was restricted in 2013 pending scientific review.

Bees help pollinate 90% percent of the world’s major crops and their population has collapsed in recent years. The sudden drop in populations is often blamed on mites, pesticides, virus and fungi.

It is now established that pesticides clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, based on nicotine, attack the nervous systems of insect pests. Bees are subsequently disoriented and cannot find their way back to the hive, whilst also lowering their resistance to disease.

The chemicals of these pesticides are absorbed by the plant from the seed phase and transported to leaves, flowers, roots and stems, thus poisoning insects. This meant killing sap-feeding insects such as aphids and root-feeding grubs, but also bees.