Commerce over Common Sense. Bee gone!
Over the past few years in our own small way, we have tried to support beekeepers in their continuing fight against colony collapse disorder (CCD). We sponsor microscopy seminars at various beekeeping conferences. We sell a Beekeeper Special microscope package for nosema diagnosis and other hive infections. We have learnt that no one has been able to pinpoint the reason for CCD and that the arguments are many and manifold.
Most of all we have learnt the power of Commerce over Common Sense.
For several years, a suspect in the hunt for the CCD culprit, has been neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonicotinoids are neuro-active insecticides, similar to nicotine. They include acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyramnithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Of these, imidacloprid is far the most widely used pesticide throughout the world. Developed by Bayer, it is used in countless different brands and has a truly global impact.
Since 2012, research studies conducted in both Europe and the US have found compelling evidence that neonicotinoids adversely affect bees. The American Bird Society published a review of no less than 200 related research studies and advocate for a ban on neoinsectinoids due to their toxicity to birds and other wildlife. In January, last year, the European Food Safety Authority published a report confirming the toxicity of neonicotinoids and furthermore, that some of the research on which regulatory approval was based, was flawed.
More recently and most compelling, three researchers (Chensheng Lu, Kenneth M. Warchol and Richard A. Callahan at Harvard’s School of Public Health have just published a study that directly links CCD to neoinsectinoids. Their findings point to wards neurological impairment of the exposed bees and conclusive evidence of CCD where the bees disappeared from the hive. Interestingly, they also had one control hive experience CCD from nosema infection, but the bees died in the hive. They did not disappear.
So these pesticides are no longer used, right? Wrong!
Six months ago, in December 2013, the European Community (EC), placed a temporary ban on three neonicotinoids including the most widespread, imidacloprid, for two years. This temporary ban came hot on the heels of a landmark European-wide, EPILOBEE study commissioned by the EC. While the EC requested that pesticide monitoring be part of the study, various member nations argued that this would “not be feasible”. As Professor David Goulson, a biologist at the University of Sussex, commented: “It does seem odd that the EC spent over €3m on a project on bee health and the words pesticide and insecticide are not used once in the document. Odd indeed!
The EPILOBEE report concluded that the UK is suffering one of the worst rates of CCD in Europe. In spite of this state-of-affairs, the UK was one of eight countries that voted against the pesticide ban. The UK has created a draft National Pollinator Strategy of which one of the “priority actions” is gathering evidence to “determine the effects of neonicotinoids on populations of wild and managed pollinators in field conditions”. So far, so good, but wait…….which independent scientist is leading the study? None. Incredibly, the study will be led and paid for by the pesticide manufacturers, two of whom have been exposed for intense behind-the-scenes lobbying. So much for independent research!
And the US? What action is being taken here? Even less! The Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency’s stance is that “The decline in honeybee health is a complex problem caused by a combination of stressors.”
No doubt….but let’s remember three things:
1. Honey bees are the critical catalyst in our food production. We risk losing them through CCD. We risk our entire food chain.
2. The growing body of evidence points to neoinsectinoids as being (at least), one pillar of the causes of CCD.
3. We can actually do something about neoinsectinoids on a global scale. Other elements of the “complex problem” are not easily tackled.
As is often the way on the road to consensus, the evidence is not 100% cast iron, guaranteed, watertight or unanimous, a situation that is easily exploited by intense lobbying by the respective chemical companies.
As a result, commercial interests triumph over the interests of the wider population. Instead of taking rational decisions rooted in Common Sense for the benefit of the entire population, we allow commercial interests to reign supreme.
Churchill is right. Once again, it looks like we will only do the right thing when all other alternatives are exhausted… but by then it may be too late.