It was January of this year that the European Food Safety Authority turned heads with their confirmation that neonicotinoids – insecticides derived from chemicals related to nicotine – are a smoking gun in the massive bee die off – also known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Multiple around-the-world studies and documentaries have implicated these pesticides in massive bee death since 2006, causing a great debate in the EU. Activists, environmentalists, scientists and even politicians were shocked and dismayed that the two-year ban suggested by the European Commission didn’t pass on Friday.
Major countries like UK and Germany failed to back the ban in the vote, arousing suspicions that they catered to industry interests – manufactures Bayer and Syngenta, and Big Ag groups in denial.
Hungary and Romania led the opposed votes. Outspoken activist group Avaaz (dot org) finds the UK public wants this ban. A poll on Wednesday showed three-quarters of the UK supporting the ban and Avaaz amassed 2.5 million signatures across Europe.
Iain Keith of Avaaz said:
Britain and Germany have caved in to the industry lobby and refused to ban bee-killing pesticides. Today’s vote flies in the face of science and public opinion and maintains the disastrous chemical armageddon on bees, which are critical for the future of our food.
Chemical companies Bayer and Syngenta lead the billion dollar neonicotinoids market. They were relieved and happy about the fall through. John Atkin, Syngenta’s chief operating officer said:
We are pleased member states did not support the EC’s shamefully political proposal. Restricting the use of this vital crop protection technology will do nothing to help improve bee health.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs felt there should be more scientific evidence before such a big move that might rock the ag industry. However, since bees pollinate and help create one-third of the produce in the West, three-quarters globally, years of mass die off would seem to be the biggest priority for agriculture to continue. The US and UK have experienced a 50% bee drop-off in the last 25 years. And there is lots of alarming scientific evidence.
This mindset is upsetting to people like Prof. Dave Goulson, leader of one of the major studies pointing to neonicotinoids for bee die-off. Scientists scramble to provide proof with 6-month or longer studies, but as he says, “this class of pesticides were not adequately evaluated in the first place. Yet politicians choose to ignore all of this.” He believes it is mainly the manufacturers refusing to acknowledge the critical harm.
A major Harvard School of Public Health study presented convincing evidence last year that an extremely low amount of neonicotinoids (imidacloprid is the world’s most used) caused CCD. They even recreated CCD with the signature keynotes: bees have disappeared except for a few dead ones nearby and food stores are still in hive with some young ones and pollen. The two culprits: exposure to neonicotinoids through pollen and nectar and through high fructose corn syrup which is often fed to bees by bee keepers (neonicotinoids are systemically used on corn).They didn’t die off at first, but did with periodic low amounts of exposure at 23 weeks. The study leaders estimated that continuing massive die-off could result in a loss of billions of dollars to the ag industry. Bottom line: these pesticides simply don’t do what’s intended if they kill the co-creators of the world’s food supply (the ones who are not the pests!)
Groups like Avaaz argue that short-term farming setbacks now to stop using neonicotinoids far outweigh a future mass farming loss if the bee population continues to rapidly decline. It’s not just about the bees themselves, a major concern, but the very future of food.
While this ban would have applied to all 27 member states, some of the countries like France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia have voted for their own suspensions in the past. There was no majority for or against the ban in the final tally. Even though the ban fell through, an appeals committee still has the power to enforce it. If the appeals vote ends up “hung” again, the commission can make its own decision (unfortunately this is how genetically modified crops were approved in the EU). Or the EC could simply revise the proposal and come back.
A UK environment secretary was frustrated that the EC was rushing this decision instead of waiting for pending field trial results for another study. The study’s control fields were actually compromised by drifting pesticides! Or at least the neonicotinoids were found in the control pollen and nectar somehow.
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Furthermore, pesticide regulation is shoddy. And the focus of any investigation is on pesticide sprays and minimal species of bees. Neonicotinoids are systemic chemicals used even on the seeds and are found in the pollen and nectar. The focus leaves out other important species for pollination like other bees, different types of flies and butterflies.
But Belgian Green party EU parliament member Bart Staes said:
The inconclusive outcome keeps hopes alive that the proposed neonicotinoids suspensions can be implemented soon. We call on all reluctant EU governments not to heed the misleading lobbying from the insecticide industry.
And with growing public awareness, outlook is hopeful. Continuing bee deaths means the issue is not going away.
Read more about Prof. Goulsen’s 2012 study and why he’s angry at Bayer:
Image: Modified by author, original: http://cascadiansourcecenter.com/photo/gas-mask-on-bee
Read other articles by Heather Callaghan