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Pesticides threaten bees

Posted by on January 28th 2011

Evidence is mounting that the use of neonicotinoids, a form of pesticide that mimics nicotine, is responsible for the deaths of bees, by disorienting them so that they cannot return to the hive or find food.  Names to look out for are:-

‘A team of scientists led by the National Institute of Beekeeping in Bologna, Italy, found that pollen obtained from seeds dressed with imidacloprid contains significant levels of the insecticide, and suggested that the polluted pollen was one of the main causes of honeybee colony collapse. Analysis of maize and sunflower crops originating from seeds dressed with imidacloprid indicated that large amounts of the insecticide will be carried back to honey bee colonies. Sub-lethal doses of imidacloprid in sucrose solution affected homing and foraging activity of honeybees. Bees fed with 500 or 1000 ppb (parts per billion) of the insecticide in sucrose solutions failed to return to the hive and disappeared altogether, while bees that had imbibed 100 ppb solutions were delayed for 24 h compared with controls. Imidacloprid in sucrose solution fed to the bees in the laboratory impaired their communication for a few hours. Sub-lethal doses of imidacloprid in laboratory and field experiment decreased flight activity and olfactory discrimination, and olfactory learning performance was impaired.

Bayer corporation scientists reported that neither honeybees exposed to imidacloprid in sunflower seeds dressed with the insecticide nor maize seeds dressed with the insecticide or released from the seeds during planting were detrimental to honeybees. The Bayer studies did not deal with sub-lethal behaviour of intoxicated bees. An independent study found that imidacloprid was released to the environment from treated maize seeds during seed planting. Bayer eco-toxicologists directed harsh criticisms at reports showing lethal or sub-lethal toxic effects of imidicloprid seed dressing and concluded that imidacloprid does not pose any significant risk to honeybees in the field, without, however, disproving the findings. It is simply yet another case of the anti-precaution principle being applied (Use and Abuse of the Precautionary PrincipleISIS News 6)

Turning to GM crops such as maize, canola, cotton and soybean it is clear that all of these GM crops, with or without Bt genes, use seeds most of which are coated with neonicotinoid pesticides highly toxic to honey bees.  For example, Herculex maize with Bt genes to control rootworm, like Yieldgard corn borer resistant maize, is planted with seeds dressed with a neonicotinoid insecticide and a fungicide. Furthermore, the GM planting requires setting aside plots of non-GM maize making up 20 percent of the planted area as a “refuge” to discourage the evolution of resistant insects.  But the “refuge” is sprayed with neonicotinoid pesticide to protect its yield, and is more like a death camp for insects. Monsanto’s US Patent 6,660,690 provides for coating GM seeds with chemical pesticides.’

from the Institute of Science and Society

According to the experts, “insufficient data exists in order to make a conclusive case” to link neonicotinoids with colony collapse disorder.  The question in my mind is this:-

Why are pesticides with such questionable properties allowed to be used without being demonstrated to have no harmful effects on bees?  Are we applying the precautionary principle of European law?  Or do we have to wait until bees are extinct?

Other links

Guardian Environment Network 6th August 2010

Cities’ crucial role in protecting bees 16th December 2010

Bees in freefall – sharp US decline 3rd January 2011

Guardian – pesticides linked to honeybee decline 29th March 2012

Soil Association gives evidence 24th November 2012

Guardian – EU proposals January 31st 2013 (NB this affects only three of the insecticides listed)

Syngenta, Lies & Pesticides March 12th 2013 (from the Greens in the European Parliament)

NEW

Bee Lovely Petition

This article is work in progress.  Please supply further material and links .  Try writing to your MP and the the European Commission if you feel concerned and want to survive longer than a couple of years.

Update 24th June 2014

See this BBC page about a report, to be published next month, by scientists who argue that neonicotinoids and another chemical called fipronil are poisoning the earth, the air and the water.

The pesticides accumulate in the soil and leach into water, and pose a significant problem for earthworms, freshwater snails, butterflies and birds.

The researchers say that the classic measurements used to assess the toxicity of a pesticide are not effective for these systemic varieties and conceal their true impact.

They point to one of the studies in the review carried out in the Netherlands.

It found that higher levels of neonicotinoids in water reduced the levels of aquatic invertebrates, which are the main prey for a whole range of species including wading birds, trout and salmon.

“There is so much evidence, going far beyond bees,” Prof Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex told BBC News.

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