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Global Environment

The EU starts buzzing to protect bees!

Bees have been an important environmental commodity for centuries, both in the direct production of consumer products such as honey and beeswax, as well as their indirect contribution to the production of fruits and vegetables through pollination. There has been an increasing level of concern over the years about the status of bee populations across the world, especially when figures show that wild honey bees are responsible for pollinating at least one third of the crops produced worldwide.

Bees collect pollen from flowers, and in the process pollinate flowers with pollen from neighbouring plants (Photo credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim)

The EU will shortly be voting on a proposal to restrict the use of certain pesticides that have been scientifically tested to cause bee deaths. The concerned pesticides are called neonicotinoid chemicals, which are generally found in sprays. These are believed to be harmful to bees, so the European Commission (EC) is advocating for greater restriction to the use of these sprays on crops which are not attractive to bees and other important pollinators.  However, farmers and crop experts are relatively hesitant about this issue since they believe that there is insufficient data to merit the restriction. Should the EU member states fail to reach some form of agreement, the EC will simply impose a two-year restriction on neonicotinoids.

Imidacloprid, one of the neonicotinoids that acts as an insect neurotoxin (Photo credit: NEUROtiker)

This is not the first time that the issue has been flagged up within the EU. In March 2013, the EU voted on this matter but the result proved to be inconclusive. Since the member states did not reach an agreement, the EC proposal went to an appeals committee where under EU law it still can be amended. Despite this, there is no significant majority for or against this proposal so that the EC can impose the suggested moratorium. Some EU member states have already implemented restrictions for neonicotinoids, including France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia. So far, recent voting saw five countries abstaining (including the UK and Germany), 13 countries voting in favour, and nice against the two-year moratorium.

Neonictonoids obtain their name from the fact that they are new nicotine-like chemicals, which act on the nervous system in insects. They exist in three forms in the agriculture industry: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam. They are not as deadly to mammals and toxic to the environment as they are to insects but there are other adverse effects. Such pesticides are generally water soluble, so when they are applied to the soil they are absorbed by the plant, which itself becomes a store for poisons.

The plight being experienced by bees in Europe is a source of great concern for many people, so much so that nearly three  million signatures have been collected in support of the proposed ban by the EC. There also have been demonstrations held in Brussels and outside Westminster in the UK to further push for this ban. It is a bit worrying though that certain countries appear to be tip-toeing around this issue. David Cameron’s government appears to agree with the lobbying efforts, but it said that it cannot support a proposed ban in the current form as it is advocate for a more progressive introduction of restriction as opposed to an outright ban.

I do agree with the UK in exerting caution on certain issues, but a stand needs to be taken in the near future. Governments needs to stop looking at environmental systems as being ‘quasi-static’. They cannot afford to delay for another day, especially when dealing with sensitive species such as bees.

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  1. Pingback: Cecilia Malmström and TTIP: Neonicotinoids will remain banned in the EU | The Malting Pot

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