Pesticide Buzzkill

22 Jan 2013

A new study by the European Union’s food safety watchdog has found three widely used pesticides guilty of putting the health of honeybee colonies under serious threat. Scientists from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warn that the risks posed to bees by the pesticides mean that these chemicals should only be used on crops that are not attractive to bees.

“Given the importance of bees in the ecosystem and the food chain and given the multiple services they provide to humans, their protection is essential,” EFSA states. The researchers said there needed to be “a much more comprehensive risk assessment for bees” and “a higher level of scrutiny for interpretation of field studies” before the pesticides are used on crops that are generally buzzing with pollinators.

EFSA studied the impact on bees of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – all neonicotinoid insecticides, the most widely used family of pesticides, made by Switzerland’s Syngenta and Germany’s Bayer. In turn, the chemical giants funded a report published last Tuesday that estimates that a ban of these pesticides would cost farmers £620m in lost food production.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are applied to seeds, eliminating the problem of chemical run-off experienced with spray-based pesticides, but meaning that the chemicals tend to stay in the plant well after their intended use. The pesticide frequently appears in the plant’s nectar and pollen, and so bees are destined to interact with it.

For some European countries, EFSA’s findings and recommendation to discontinue use of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee-attracting crops, reinforces the steps they they have already taken. Countries such as Italy, France and Germany introduced regulations to restrict use of some members of this pesticide family when they witnessed the impact on bee colonies in their own studies. However, in other countries all three pesticides are being used freely. In the UK, for example, neonicotinoids are used on around three quarters of oilseed rape crops, which are often frequented by bees.

Beekeepers’ associations from Italy and France presented petitions to the European Parliament for the protection of bees on Monday, highlighting the sharp rise in mortality among bees in the EU due to the extensive use of pesticides. In support, the European Greens launched a campaign ”Give Bees A Chance: No to GMOs, No To Pesticides” today.

The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity supports small-scale agriculture that uses crop rotation and other natural pest-control method and also works directly with communities of traditional beekeepers, including four Presidia projects – Satere-Mawe Native Bees Honey (Brazil), Tigray White Honey (Ethiopia), Wenchi Volcano Honey (Ethiopia) and Puebla Sierra Norte Native Bees Honey (Mexico) – and 22 honeys on the Ark of Taste .

The EFSA study is part of their broader investigation into bee health and the potential causes of colony collapse disorder for the European Commission.
Full details of the study can be found in this press release from EFSA.

Sign the petition to ban neonicotinoids pesticides

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