Bees vs. business

June 2013
Bee on a Thistle
Bee on a thistle. CC photo by James Bowe on Flickr
Europe seems to have taken a first meaningful step in tackling the collapse of its bee population. A two-year, EU-wide, moratorium has been imposed on three 'neonicotinoid' insecticides used on crops visited by bees and other pollinators.

The decision came in the wake of a series of high-profile scientific studies which linked neonicotinoids to huge losses in the number of queen bees produced and big increases in 'disappeared' bees i.e. those that fail to return to the hive after foraging trips. Regulators concluded there was “a strong, substantive and scientific case for the suspension” after identifying a 'high acute' risk' to honey bees and an unknown risk to wild bees. One bee expert whose research found harmful effects from neonicotinoids warned of “... a very substantial body of scientific evidence suggesting that this class of insecticides is impacting on health of wild bees, and perhaps other wildlife too.”

France, Italy and Germany have already imposed their own temporary bans on these insecticides and are promoting the use of natural pest predators and good old-fashioned crop rotation to control problem pests. Italy has reported a halving of winter bee deaths over the three years of its own neonicotinoid ban.

Beyond the seasonally restricted and pesticide-laden crops in fields, most farms have almost no flowers, so there's nothing for the bees to eat. The obvious next step is to boost vital bee populations by making more food available to them.

Saving our bees from extinction isn't just green ideology. Three quarters of all our crops are pollinated by bees: our farmers and our food supply depends on them. The value of insect pollination is estimated at £440 million in the UK alone, and hand-pollination in the absence of bees would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion. The latter cost would of course have to be added to the price of our food.

Removing neonicotinoids from use has already been proved readily possible: in response to customer concerns, UK supermarkets Waitrose and the Co-op have already removed neonicotinoids from their supply chains, and DIY store, B&Q, has eliminated related products from its shelves.

A petition to the UK government demanding a ban on bee-unfriendly pesticides was signed by 300,000 Britons.

In light of all of the above, British support for the EU's protective measures for our bees should be total. Why then, are the words and actions in UK government circles going in two directions as once?

Prime Minister David Cameron has declared himself a bee enthusiast saying quite rightly
 “if we do not look after our bee populations, very serious consequences will follow”. 
Yet at the same time there has been intense secret lobbying by British ministers against the ban.

DEFRA has declared:
 “... We have always been clear that a healthy bee population is our top priority, that's why decisions need to be taken using the best possible scientific evidence and we want to work with the (European) Commission to achieve this...”
But at the same time the Department is refusing to accept the science which underpins the ban, and is intent on watering down the 'top priority' measures to “proportionate” action, citing a need to avoid mysterious “unforeseen knock-on effects”.

Environment minister, Owen Paterson, who must be aware of the economic importance of bees to Britain, described the 80,000 e-mails he received from the democratic electorate he represents as a “cyber-attack”. In the lead up to the ban, he privately assured Syngenta, makers of neonicotinoids, that “the UK has been very active” in opposing the ban, and promised that “efforts will continue and intensify”.

Our government doesn't seem to notice anything out of place about Syngenta's shift of position from previous claims that its neonicotinoids had been introduced only after “the most stringent regulatory work”, to a suggestion that further studies were being considered to “close the gaps”.

Campaigners, it seems, believe there is another agenda.


What 'other agenda'?

Could it be cosying up to the biotech industry to assist in the Government's pro-GM drive? (See WHEN NON- NEWS IS BAD NEWS - April 2013)

If our government gets its way, Britain will find itself hosting a country-wide scale neonicotinoid field experiment in which we will be the comparator, continuing to put our pollinators at risk, while the rest of the EU lets its bees live. And any few remaining British bees will have to cope with GM crops too.

If nothing else gets your back up, an elected Minister treating your democratic communication as a 'cyber attack' certainly should.

  • Graeme Green, A swarm of protest over bee 'rescue', Metro 2.05.13
  • Damian Carrington, Insecticide firms in secret bid to stop European ban that could save bees, Observer, 28.04.13

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