J. D. Heyes
October 1, 2012
A noted environmental writer for a top British newspaper is questioning why governments aren’t doing more to protect honeybee pollinators from a pesticide that is dramatically thinning the numbers of queen bees in many hives.
Damian Carrington, of The Guardian, has written recently that a growing body of evidence indicates that common crop pesticides “have been shown for the first time to seriously harm bees by damaging their renowned ability to navigate home.”
This new research indicates there is a strong link between the pesticides and a dramatic decline in the numbers of honey bees both in the United States and United Kingdom to the tune of about 50 percent in the last 25 years alone.
“The losses pose a threat to food supplies as bees pollinate a third of the food we such as tomatoes, beans, apples and strawberries,” he wrote.
Declining bee numbers mean fewer to pollinate our food
Researchers have found that bees consuming one particular pesticide suffered an 85 percent loss in the number of queen bees produced by their hives, while another study indicated a doubling of “disappeared” bees – those that were unable to return to hives after foraging for food.
The significance of these studies, according to the journal Science, is that they are among the first to be done in realistic, open-air conditions.
“People had found pretty trivial effects in lab and greenhouse experiments, but we have shown they can translate into really big effects in the field. This has transformed our understanding,” Prof. David Goulson, of the University of Stirling, who led one of the research teams, said. “If it’s only one meter from where they forage in a lab to their nest, even an unwell bee can manage that.”
Prof. Mickael Henry of INRA in Avignon, France, who led a separate research team, added, “Under the effects we saw from the pesticides, the population size would decline disastrously, and make them even more sensitive to parasites of lack of food.”
The reason for such large declines in bee numbers remains unclear, researchers note, but pesticides, the varroa mite and other parasites, and the destruction of flower-rich habitats in which bees are known to feed are believed to be some of the primary reasons, the Guardian reported.
Pesticide makers, as well as the British government, have denied that one class of pesticide chemicals – neonicotinoids – are causing significant problems for bees, but other countries including Germany, France and Italy have suspended key insecticides over fears they are causing bees problems.
UK ministers ready to act
“The UK has a robust system for assessing risks from pesticides and all the evidence shows neonicotinoids do not pose an unacceptable risk to honeybees when products are used correctly. However, we will not hesitate to act if presented with any new evidence,” said a spokesman from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the paper said.
But Henry said the new research showed that current approval processes for pesticides are not adequate.
“We now have enough data to say authorization processes must take into account not only the lethal effects, but also the effects of non-lethal doses,” he said, according to the paper.
Carrington said a powerful group of British lawmakers (Ministers of Parliament, or MPs) is questioning why, despite strong evidence, that nothing is being done to stop the bee carnage.
“We will be announcing details of the inquiry soon. In the meantime, Defra ministers may want to start doing their homework on pesticide policy and biodiversity, because we will be calling them before parliament to answer questions on these issues,” wrote Joan Walley MP, who chairs the House of Commons environmental audit committee, a powerful cross-party group that acts as parliament’s green watchdog, in a letter to the Guardian.