Bees , Pesticides and Politicians

A week ago, all eyes in the European arable industry were on the European Commission as they decided whether or not to place a ban on neonicotinoids, the pesticide family thought to be influencing the decline in bee populations. In fact, in the end, only 15 member states voted for the ban on clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam (the three neonicotinoids in question) resulting in no clear majority. However, the Commission will still have the option to impose a two-year restriction on neonicotinoids. We have to wait and see what the next paper says on the matter.

Bees are major pollinators in our ecosystems and the decline in populations should be one of the world’s major concerns. However, there is I feel insufficient data to go ahead with a full ban on neonicotinoids at this stage. Far more research needs to be done before we can be fully conclusive that there is a direct link between the two. Neonicotinoids have the ability to be targeted and many farmers choose to apply it in this fashion. Spraying alternatives would affect more of the field system than currently used. The ban could therefore worsen the environmental risk.

Nick von Westenholz, the chief executive of the Crop Protection Association points the blame to the Varroa mite and parasitic diseases, combined with the problems associated with habitat loss, colony stress and climate change, as the key factors implicated in declining bee populations. It is a combination of factors and a variety of measures need to be taken. Placing the blame on neonics is insufficient. I for one will be interested to see how the initial 2 year ban goes forth, when it is given the go ahead. I am sceptical we will see improvements and indeed I think there will be added environmental costs for the reasons set out above.

Please leave your comments below. For or against I would appreciate hearing other views on the matter.

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5 thoughts on “Bees , Pesticides and Politicians

  1. It is a complex topic with many factors contributing to the problem and making analysis difficult. As far as honey bees go, perhaps one area where there needs to be more research is their genetics, particularly genetic diversity (or lack of). But also, there needs to be more consideration of the wider range of pollinators (and insects generally) and the factors affecting their decline (and proliferation of some) too.

    • Hi Kay. Many thanks for your comment. I completely agree that there needs to be more consideration of the decline of pollinators more generally. If you are interested take a look at the following page: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/biology/research/ecological/community/pollinators/

      I went to a lecture delivered by Professor Jane Memmott of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol a few months ago and she was talking specifically about your point in question. There are things that we can do. Much more work needs to be done though – both in the lab and the field.

  2. There actually is recently-published evidence that these specific chemicals affect bees and other insects too – I have links to journal articles in my latest 2 posts on bees if you want to check them out.
    I agree that the whole issue is very complex – Nature itself is complex after all! There will never be just one single cause or factor that is responsible for ecological change of any kind. Bees, pollinators and beneficial insects in general (predators, parasitoids etc.) are under a lot of stress from a lot of different factors, one of them being our increased use of chemicals that are specifically designed to affect insect bodies. I think it’s great that we start making changes where we can, and commit to a gradual process of change – after all, is “too many complex factors” really a valid reason for not doing something about one factor at a time? 🙂
    It’s wonderful you got to see Jane Memmott talk! I’ve read quite a few of her papers, she does great research.

    • I agree with manuelinor. Since this thread began, the EC has made its decision – a 2-year ban on neonics, starting Dec 2013. I’ve blogged about this quite a lot and will continue to do so. I’ll also be interested to see what you say about it as the ban goes ahead.

  3. It is wonderful to see people caring for our honeybee health. As a commercial beekeeper I am keen to protect this wonderful creature from pesticides. We also have to support farmers with their needs otherwise one banned pesticide will just be replaced by another more harmful one. If you ask a British child what do bees do, they reply with, “They sting!” If you ask a child in Asia they will say, “They make honey!” Until all children say, “They work with humans to make food for each other” we cannot hope to win this fight.

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