LONDON (Reuters) - Top British fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett joined bee campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Friday to urge the government to support a proposed European Union (EU) ban on pesticides which harm bees.
Britain is currently one of a group of countries blocking attempts to introduce a Europe-wide ban on the world's most widely used insecticides, neonicotinoids, arguing their impact on bees is unclear.
A vote takes place in Brussels on April 29 on whether to ban the poisons on flowering crops.
"If there's any chance that they're killing the bees as a precautionary measure they need to be banned," Hamnett, who has campaigned against pesticides for decades, told Reuters TV.
"The British government is committing political suicide I think by not supporting this ban."
Britain, Germany and three other countries abstained from a vote earlier this year.
Hamnett questioned whether this was because two major pesticide companies, Germany's Bayer and Swiss company Syngenta, which has operations in Britain, are lobbying against the ban, saying the impact of pesticides on bees is unproven.
"Are they in bed with Syngenta or Bayer or are they just stupid?" said Hamnett.
The companies have proposed a plan which includes planting more flowering margins around fields to provide bee habitats, monitoring to detect the neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for the decline, and research into the impact of parasites and viruses.
The fashion duo then handed in a petition to Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street office, urging the government to put environmental concerns ahead of pressure from the agribusiness lobby.
"Why is government supporting big business because it doesn't help people at all? What is good for the planet is good for the economy," said Westwood.
Bees are currently suffering a sharp decline and colony collapse due to a variety of reasons.
Campaigners argue that bees are crucial for the planet as they perform a vital role in pollinating crops and their disappearance will have catastrophic effects on the world.
They want pre-emptive action taken on banning pesticides while more research is carried out to fully assess how seriously pesticides affect bees.
"This could become a really serious problem. There are parts of China where they have to pollinate fruit trees by hand because they have wiped out their insects through overuse of chemicals," said Quentin Gibon who joined the protest wearing a bee costume.
Earlier this year EU governments failed to agree a ban on three widely used pesticides linked to the decline of honeybees, but the European Commission is threatening to force such a ban through unless member states agree a compromise next week.
(Reporting by Georgina Cooper of Reuters Television, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)