Let it Bee Time

26 Mar 2018

The plight of bees under threat from neonicotinoids continues.


On March 22-23, the European Commission Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, responsible for issues relating to neonicotinoids, was expected to vote on introducing comprehensive restrictions on the use of these toxic chemicals. Neonicotinoids are the world’s most widely used insecticide, and have long been known to have serious impacts on biodiversity and food security. Prolonging their use in agriculture is completely unsustainable and poses a huge threat to the future of our food system.

“All EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) studies as well as industry reports have shown there is an unacceptable threat to bees”, commented Walter Haefeker of the European Professional Beekeepers Association, “the results of the latest EFSA study, confirming the effects of neonicotinoids, were published at the end of February, but there have been more delaying actions on the actual ban. It has been a very long process”, he said.


What’s at stake?

Simply put, everything. “What we are facing is a global pollinator crisis, we are talking about the 6th mass extinction”, says Matt Shardlow from BugLife, a nature conservation charity. According to Jean Marc Bonmatin of the CNRS (the French national centre for scientific research), the neonicotinoid case exemplifies what is happening in agriculture more generally: insects are developing resistance to the chemicals very rapidly and as a result companies develop products with increasingly stronger toxicity. Bonmatin uses some shocking figures to explain the scale of the problem, “One nanogram of neonicotinoids can kill one bee, while nearly 20.000 tonnes of these chemicals are used in a single year”. To make matters worse, studies show that up to 80% of neonicotinoids remain in the soil and leak into the water, thereby affecting plants that haven’t even been treated with the chemicals, as well as all terrestrial invertebrates.

But just why are farmers using so much insecticide? The assumption has long been that neonicotinoids will help to guarantee high yields, but a large body of scientific research and reports have shown that yields are not, in fact, higher and that pest resistance to the substance occurs very fast, typically over 2-3 years. The solution? According to Bonmatin, plants should only be treated when there is an actual problem, rather than in a preventative manner which is the current modus operandi in the industry. Futhermore, “Alternative measures, including socio-economic tools, can be combined and provide a real possibility to avoid the use of all very toxic substances while maintaining the same yield”. These pesticides have a high cost for farmers, so bringing alternative strategies, and less costly measures, to the table can actually help them have a higher net profit from their crops. Ultimately, as the CNRS expert sums up, “We don’t need higher yields, or more food, we just need better food”.

Slow Food has been working alongside a group of civil society organizations in the EU to put pressure on the EU Commission and Member states to finally put a stop to the use of neonicotinoids. An open letter was sent to President Juncker ahead of the Standing Committee meeting and is available to read here.

The decline in bee population has a huge impact on agriculture, while the continued use of these chemicals pollutes water sources, affecting other animals such as birds and fish, not to mention our health. It is crucial that neonicotinoids are banned as soon as possible, not just for the sake of bees, but for our health and the very future of our food.


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