Europeans get tough on bee-killing pesticides
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.