Eu­ro­peans get tough on bee-killing pes­ti­cides

Element - - Planet - By So­phie Bar­clay

Ear­lier this month the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion put in place a two-year mora­to­rium on pes­ti­cides called neon­i­coti­noids, which are known to harm bees. Neon­i­coti­noids tar­get the ner­vous sys­tem of in­sects re­sult­ing in paral­y­sis and death. Re­cent stud­ies show that they af­fect both honey and bumble bees, low­er­ing im­mu­nity, im­pact­ing on the size of colonies and the amount of food (and honey) com­ing into the hive, re­duc­ing the num­ber of queens and caus­ing bees to be­come dis­ori­en­tated while out for­ag­ing.

The Com­mis­sion acted in re­sponse to a re­port from the Euro­pean Food Safety Au­thor­ity which showed that neon­i­coti­noids posed “high acute risks”.

The im­pact of pes­ti­cides on bees could be a piece of the Colony Col­lapse Dis­or­der (CCD) puz­zle. CCD is char­ac­terised by the un­ex­plained dis­ap­pear­ance of adult bees that have not been af­fected by Var­roa mites or pathogens. CCD is dec­i­mat­ing bee pop­u­la­tions in Europe and the United States. In the win­ter of 2012, US bee keep­ers lost an aver­age of 22 per cent of bees to CCD.

A US in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal steer­ing com­mit­tee re­cently re­leased a re­port show­ing po­ten­tial links be­tween pes­ti­cide use and CCD. The re­port stated that some pes­ti­cides have “acute and sub lethal ef­fects” on honey bees, con­clud­ing that more re­search on the im­pact of pes­ti­cides on bees was re­quired. Sub­se­quently no ac­tion was taken.

The Amer­i­can re­port also cov­ered chem­i­cals known as pyrethroids, used in in­sec­ti­cides and miti­cides against the Var­roa mite, sug­gest­ing that their im­pact may pose a “three-fold greater haz­ard to the colony than the sys­temic neon­i­coti­noids.”

Both neonic­iti­noids and pyrethroids are used in New Zealand. The use of neon­i­coti­noids is con­trolled by the Haz­ardous Sub­stance and New Or­gan­isms Bill. Reg­u­la­tions re­strict their use in ar­eas where bees are for­ag­ing and pro­hibit their use on flow­er­ing trees and plants.

Ac­cord­ing to the National Bee­keep­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (NBA) pres­i­dent, Barry Foster, bees in New Zealand are fac­ing four key threats; Var­roa mite, a lack of nu­tri­tion (partly due to a loss of bee habi­tat), pathogens (which can come from ex­otic pathogens in im­ported honey) and pes­ti­cides. “Some pes­ti­cides ma­jorly im­pact on bees im­mune sys­tems. So if they get ex­posed to pathogens, pes­ti­cides and Var­roa there can be a com­bi­na­tion ef­fect.”

Dr. Mark Good­win of Plant and Food Re­search says we don’t have CCD in New Zealand and our main is­sue re­mains the Var­roa mite. The Var­roa mite has de­vel­oped a re­sis­tance to two of the three chem­i­cals cur­rently used as miti­cides within hives. “That’s go­ing to cre­ate a pro­gres­sively larger prob­lem for us.”

In New Zealand, honey bees con­trib­ute $3 bil­lion dollars an­nu­ally in terms of their pol­li­na­tion ser­vices to fruit and veg­eta­bles and the ex­port of honey is a grow­ing in­dus­try.

The NBA im­plores those us­ing sprays to care­fully read the label and take note of the with­hold­ing pe­ri­ods for sprays. Many per­sist in the en­vi­ron­ment for long pe­ri­ods of time.

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