No Buzz this Spring? Time for Plan Bee
As the European Union rolls out a two-year moratorium on certain pesticides, beekeepers warn that despite a welcome gesture, the world is approaching a bees or bust moment.
For the past decade or more there has been rising global alarm about the unexplained death of bee colonies — a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This is threatening to wipe out the world’s honey bees — plant pollinators supreme — insects that in turn are vital for the survival of mankind.
The decision was reported here by Radio France International: “France has voted with 14 other European Union countries in favour of a ban on three pesticides linked to killing bees, which are vital to the continent’s agricultural industry. The insecticides – imidacloprid and clothianidin produced by German Bayer, and thiamethoxam, made by Switzerland’s Syngenta – are used to treat seeds, and are applied to soil or sprayed on bee-attractive plants and cereals.
“However, they have been blamed for a sharp decline in global bee populations. The EU’s health commissioner, Tonio Borg, says the move protects the 22 billion euro European agricultural industry. Bees account for 80 percent of plant pollination by insects, vital to global food production. Without them, many crops would be unable to bear fruit or would have to be pollinated by hand.
“Fifteen nations voted for the ban, with eight against and four abstentions. Although a majority of nations voted to save Europe’s bees, under the EU’s complex voting system that takes the population into account, the vote was 187 for, 125 against and 33 abstentions, short of a qualified majority but leaving the ultimate decision in the hands of the European Commission. The European Commission said the ban will come into force in December.”
But does the move come in time? Mike Alexander, our nature and gardening correspondent notes (see below) the bees in his gardens are strangely silent this spring.
The BBC recently produced a documentary on the crisis facing bees and the human race. Watch it below the producers hope it will persuade you to plant your garden with bee-friendly trees and flowers while ditching pesticides.
Who Killed The Honey Bee? (BBC Documentary – Published on YouTube on Nov 19, 2012) Here is a summary: “Bees are dying in their millions. It is an ecological crisis that threatens to bring global agriculture to a standstill. Introduced by Martha Kearney, this documentary explores the reasons behind the decline of bee colonies across the globe, investigating what might be at the root of this devastation.
“Honey bees are the number one insect pollinator on the planet, responsible for the production of over 90 crops. Apples, berries, cucumbers, nuts, cabbages and even cotton will struggle to be produced if bee colonies continue to decline at the current rate. Empty hives have been reported from as far afield as Taipei and Tennessee. In England, the matter has caused beekeepers to march on Parliament to call on the government to fund research into what they say is potentially a bigger threat to humanity than the current financial crisis.
“Investigating the problem from a global perspective, the programme makers travel from the farm belt of California to the flatlands of East Anglia to the outback of Australia. They talk to the beekeepers whose livelihoods are threatened by colony collapse disorder, the scientists entrusted with solving the problem, and the Australian beekeepers who are making a fortune replacing the planet’s dying bees. They also look at some of the possible reasons for the declining numbers – is it down to a bee plague, pesticides, malnutrition? Or is the answer something even more frightening?”
- Mike Alexander for whom the issue is a passion, writes that as a wet but budding French Spring gets underway his orchards are worryingly free of buzz.
WHERE ARE THE BEES? by Mike Alexander
The apple trees in my orchard are carrying more blossom than I have seen on them in the ten years I have been managing them. I like to pretend that this is down to my tender nurturing but I can’t get away from the fact that most of the other trees in the area are also heavy with blossom (though perhaps not quite as well pruned.) The problem is that these trees are silent. At this time of year there should be a steady buzz of bees busily pollinating.
It could just be down to the erratic weather, though two of my friends who are keen bee keepers have both opened their hives this year and found their swarms to be dead. The European Commission has just taken the first brave steps toward a two-year moratorium on the use of Neonicotinoids. This is a range of systemic pesticides that is applied to seed before it is planted as a deterrent against pests such as aphid. It has long been argued by bee keepers and others with an interest in protecting the environment that this product has had a detrimental effect on bees.
The EU moratorium certainly did not have majority support. The outcome of the vote was inconclusive with no majority for or against. The vote went to appeal and with still no set majority the Commission was forced to wade in and make a decision in favour of the two-year ban which should come into effect in December.
The lack of consensus stems from the fact that although thirty laboratory tests showed that Neonicotinoids caused brain damage in bees it was unable to prove that that was the case in the field. The chemical companies leapt on this lack of conclusive evidence as proof that their product should continue to be used.
(There is more on the power of the pesticide lobbies, here on this French website — Pollinis – Réseau des Conservatoires Abeilles et Pollinisateurs dedicated to saving French bees.)
Many argued that in an issue of such importance one should err on the side of caution. To its credit France banned the use of these chemicals two years ago but one of the notable voices against the latest ban was that of the British Government. British Prime Minister David Cameron, questioned in parliament, side-stepped the issue, even claiming to be Life Patron of the Oxfordshire Bee Keepers Association, a claim that seems subsequently to have been put in some doubt. Failing to back the ban, despite the delivery to Downing Street of a 300 000 signature petition calling for action to save bees by fashion designers Katherine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood, may become an issue that will not go away anytime soon for the UK’s Prime Minister and “Life Patron”.
The chemical companies are quick to point out there will be massive economic losses if this range of chemicals is banned. There can be no doubt that alternatives will be more costly to use. Crops will have to be treated after planting and this involves considerably more expensive labour. The moratorium does not apply to crops not favoured by bees, nor will it apply to winter crops.
As a gardener I find it strange that the chemical giants should portray this as a battle of man against nature. Whether we like it or not the two are interlinked and it was good to see the EU standing up on this one. The chemical companies could lose a lot of business from the ban and are naturally quick to muddy the waters with claims that there will be reduced food production.
This is not borne out in countries like France where the ban has been in place for two growing seasons already. The chemical companies wield huge economic clout and the struggle of the beekeepers has really been a David and Goliath type battle which almost surely is not over yet. The last nicotine-related product to be severely restricted was tobacco and many will remember spending years listening to tobacco lobbyists insisting that nicotine was not harmful before the science finally pinned them down. Will common sense and the human survival instinct prevail over profit and chemical interests on this one?
Story: Mike Alexander
Arte TV had this recent Save the Bees reportage worth reading and watching
More related websites
- The buzz on bee pesticides: Australia should consider a ban (theconversation.com)
- Is a World Without Bees Possible?
- Honey With a Whiff of Parfum de Paris
- Bécasse — its the Season for Gourmets
- Cash-in, Keep Track of the Cuckoo
- Four and Twenty Merle … in a Corsican Pie
- High Priced Treasure Hunting in Truffle Season
- Healthy Horsemeat on A Gourmet Gallop Back
- Grumpy Gardener – Hail the Horse Chestnut
- How About Coypu A La Carte?
- It’s Save the Frogs Time – Yes Really
- Mona Lisa Goes a Little Mad