Killing Our Bees: The Pesticide Story

by Lucy Hagger

Bee numbers have fallen by 50% in the last 25 years in the UK and US. This is a huge problem as bees pollinate a third of the food we eat, and are therefore paramount to our food security.

There has been extensive research carried out to determine what is causing this rapid decline in these precious insects. Main culprits include the varroa mite, loss of habitat and increased pesticide use.

A recent study has found that certain pesticides called neonicotinoids are having hugely detrimental effects on our bees. It has been shown that bee colonies in regions with neonicotinoid pesticide use have an 85% reduction in the number of queens the nest can produce. This means that very few new colonies are being formed the next season. The researchers also found that the colonies were smaller in the presence of the pesticides and therefore at higher risk of death.

Other researchers have found that the neonicotinoids lead to changes in the brain functioning of bees. The neonicotinoid pesticides are altering the bees’ abilities to navigate back to the colony. This means that a huge number are not returning to the nest and if they do not find their way, they die.

All of these factors are having a hugely detrimental effect on the already diminishing bee populations.

With these discoveries, a proposal has been put forward calling for the ban of the use of three types of neonicotinoid pesticides across Europe. This ban would see the halting of use of these three pesticides on crops including oil seed rape and sunflowers. The decision will be made on Friday, when the members of the European Commission vote on the matter.

This proposal has seen enormous public support. The campaign group Avaaz set up a petition so the public could show their feelings on the matter. They have managed to obtain over 2.5 million signatures and a massive 70% of Britons have voted in favour of the ban.

However, regardless of this public support, the UK environmental secretary, Owen Paterson is not supporting the ban. He is also not alone. Germany and Spain are also opposing the ban and this outweighs the support from France, Poland and The Netherlands.

Knowing the state of bee populations in Europe and their predicted future decline, it seems very short sighted to ignore these warning signs associated with the neonicotinoid pesticides. This is again a case of our policy makers ignoring scientists’ push for urgent action to enable brighter futures. As the bee populations continue to crash the world powers are putting global food security at great risk by maintaining their ignorance towards these kinds of matters.

Instead of taking proactive action to maintain well-being for future generations, policy makers are acting with short term interests in mind. Yes, with a ban on these three pesticides there will likely be a fall in certain areas of crop productivity. But we have the technology and knowledge to manage this in a safer and more sustainable way so that this fall will not continue.

The over-reliance on these damaging chemicals is not a new problem, and it was hoped that lessons would have been learned from the DDT disaster and release of Silent Spring over 50 years ago.

It does seem that some nations are beginning to see the problems we are currently facing and will continue to face in the future. Some powers seem to be thinking in a more proactive manner, which is great. However, until the majority of nations are on board with this kind of approach very little can and will be done.

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