(ANSA) - Rome, May 5 - Bees are repopulating northern Italy thanks to a ban on new types of pesticides believed responsible for decimating them, the Italian Beekeepers Association announced on Tuesday. UNAAPI Chairman Francesco Panella said the return of the bees in the fields of northern Italy ``proved that their decimation is directly linked to the ban on neonicotinoids``introduced by the agriculture ministry last September.

If the news is confirmed, it ``would be the bees`victory over the multinationals,`` said Agriculture Minister
Luca Zaia. Before introducing the ban, Zaia said he too raised honeybees and had produced some 90 kilos of honey in 2008 but had then had seen most of his bees die off. On Tuesday Zaia said he was going to give beekeeping another go, setting up six new hives. UNAII warned last summer that the mass die-off among
Italian bees over the last year had cost farmers 2.5 billion euros in lost revenue in 2008.
Referring to a ``silent epidemic,`` it said between 40% and 50% of Italy`s honeybees had vanished since the start of 2007. Although the association accepted that drought and disease have also played a role in the mysterious die-off it has always insisted that the key suspect is a seed treatment using neonicotinoids, an artificial form of nicotine.
``If the dose of neonicotinoids is high the bees die and when the dose is sub-lethal the bees are unable to find their way back to the hive,`` said Panella. A number of studies have linked neonicotinoids to die-offs in bee colonies. Some have suggested the insecticide leads bees to stop feeding larvae and results in a breakdown of their navigational abilities. Although scientific conclusions have been mixed, Germany banned the use of all neonicotinoid-based pesticides last year, while France imposed strict limits on their use on bee crops following mass die-offs in the 1990s.
Italian farmers association Coldiretti estimates that a third of all farming produce depends on insect pollination, 80% of which is carried out by bees. If bees were to disappear it would not only destroy
Italy`s 25-million-euro honey industry but also affect dozens of other crops. ``Apples, pears, almonds, citrus fruits, peaches, kiwi, chestnuts, cherries, apricots, plums, melons, tomatoes, courgette, soy and sunflowers all depend entirely or in part on bees,`` it said recently. ``But bees are also vital for meat production, given their important role in pollinating fodder``. The pro-technology agricultural association FUTURAGRA has rejected claims that neonicotinoids are to blame and stressed that banning the new pesticides would cause serious harm to maize harvests.