Monday, September 29, 2008

Pesticides and the Bees

The Soil Association in the United Kingdom is bringing a problem forward that has people buzzing with concern. This problem could become a global hornets’ nest of controversy if not solved soon as it exists, to a greater or lesser degree, in every country in the world. Some countries have already taken more steps than others; but, if the world’s food chain is remain robust and nourish all 6.725 billion of us adequately every country is going to have to cooperate.

The Soil Association in the UK is urging the government to ban pesticides linked to honeybee deaths around the world. While the UK has not taken strong enough measures yet, the Italian government recently joined France, Germany and Slovenia in banning chemicals that have been identified as helping to kill the honeybee population.

Photograph: Judi Bottoni/AP

Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's policy director, said: "It is typical of the lax approach to pesticide regulation in the UK that we look like being one of the last of the major farming countries in the EU (European Union) to wake up to the threat to our honeybees."

The pesticides causing concern are known as neonicotinoids. They are approved in the UK to kill insects on a range of crops including oilseed rape (canola), barley and sugar beet. Bees are drawn to the bright yellow flowers of oilseed rape (canola) flowers so intensely that the use of these pesticides on this crop is of particular concern to beekeepers.

The two neonicotinoids of greatest concern are Imidacloprid and Clothianidin. In May 2008, Germany suspended sales of these pesticides after 700 beekeepers along the Rhine reported that two-thirds of their bee populations had died following an application of clothianidin.

France banned the use of imidacloprid on sunflowers in 1999 and on sweet corn in 2003 when it was determined that one-third of their honeybee population had been lost to pesticides.

Imidacloprid is made by Bayer and is its bestselling pesticide being used in 120 countries. Bayer has always maintained that neonicotinoids are safe for bees if correctly applied.

"Extensive internal and international scientific studies have confirmed that neonicotinoids do not present a hazard to bees," Utz Klages, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience, said recently.

Unfortunately, many countries are taking the same stand as the UK and are loath to ban the use of pesticides on crops. Again, it would appear to be forsaking the big picture (the future) for the small monetary gains to be had now. Listen to what authorities in the UK are saying.

The National Farmers' Union said it was opposed to any ban on pesticides. Paul Chambers, NFU plant health adviser, said: "Banning pesticides using the precautionary principle is not based on good science. Pests and disease are the problems facing honeybees in the UK. The government needs to put more money into researching honeybee health."

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also attributed the decline in honeybee populations to a variety of factors. A DEFRA spokesman said: "There are no plans to ban pesticides."

Beekeepers worldwide have reported catastrophic losses of from 30% to 90% of their honeybee colonies during the last two years. Two-thirds of all major crops rely on pollination, mainly by honeybees.

1 comment:

kathi said...

I don't know that people are aware of how important the bees are to our survival.

I heard a couple of great reports on NPR the other day that I thought would interest you. One was on Culturequake (see Amazon and his website). What he had to say about food/population was eye opening.

The other was an architect, I think named Tracy Price. He designed the hugely energy efficient TVA building here in Chattanooga in the 70s. I went to his website and got lost in his designs. One I would die for is a circular library in the ceiling. He's VERY green - and has been since before it was popular.