The importance of bees to global food security is well-established: the FAO has identified at least 87 crops which depend on bees for pollination, and the volume of agricultural production which is dependent on bees and other pollinators has grown by 300% over the last 50 years. Just a few months ago, the Earthwatch Institute declared bees “the most important living beings on this planet”.
What’s also well-known is the existential threat to bees and other pollinators, a threat posed by the greatest beneficiaries of their actions: us. Air pollution, pesticides and global warming are all causing disastrous losses in pollinator populations. The bioaccumulation of pesticides in bees, particularly neonicotinoids, is suggested as a leading factor in Colony Collapse Disorder, and there are numerous studies going back years which link the phenomena.
Despite all this, there are reasons to be hopeful. On Wednesday, October 23rd, the Members of the European Parliament showed their sensitivity towards the plight of the bees by blocking a move proposed by the European Commission to weaken the rules regarding the use of pesticides which are proven to be damaging to bee populations. As Slow Food has consistently argued, there is already documentation in place detailing how we can act to protect our bees, but the Bee Guidance Document produced by the European Food Safety Authority has yet to be implemented in practice. As the MEPs have shown, there is a political will to move towards greater protection for these animals we rely upon for our own survival. We can’t afford to wait any longer, as in the absence of strict safety rules, many dangerous pesticides continue to be used, rendering the much-celebrated ban of three neonicotinoid pesticides in 2018 all but redundant.
Another positive sign is the growth of apiculture as a profession in some countries, particularly in Italy, where young people are choosing the profession despite the associated difficulties. Honey production has also increased in recent years. Of course, in order to sustain the progress made so far and continue to improve the situation, a serious and far-reaching rethink of the Common Agricultural Policy will need to give greater priority to our pollinators. In particular, it should include:
- The formal recognition of the importance of pollinators as an indispensable factor in safeguarding biodiversity.
- The establishment of a Europe-wide monitoring system of pollinators, measuring their numbers and the productive capacity of farmed bees, thus providing information on the general quality of the environment and the agricultural environment in particular.
- The recognition of bees as a primary indicator of the impact of pollution.
Besides indirectly providing us with all of the agricultural biodiversity, bees also provide us with honey, itself an enormously diverse food, of which 107 kinds are already registered on the Ark of Taste, with 19 Slow Food Presidia dedicated to honey also operational in 11 countries. Slow Food Presidium honey producers in Italy have been awarded the prestigious 3 gocce d’oro (“Three Drops of Gold”) by the National Honey Observatory, testament to the value of the production methods applied under Slow Food supervision.
As part of Slow Food’s continued commitment to the wellbeing of our precious pollinators, we have reached a Memorandum of Understanding with COLOSS, a research association based in Switzerland focused on the prevention of honey bee colony losses. In view of our shared recognition of the crucial role that honey bees and other pollinating insects play for global food security, there are considerable opportunities for mutual benefits for our organizations as we work together towards guaranteeing a secure future for our pollinators, and therefore, ourselves.
by Jack Coulton, October 29th 2019