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Posted 14 Sept 09

Pesticides Poisoning Our Bees

Environmental organisations are calling for a UK neonicotinoid pesticide suspension. A comprehensive report released today by Buglife reveals that the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid damages the hetitleh and life cycle of bees.

While this is unlikely to explain Colony Collapse Disorder in the Honey bee, it could be a key contributory factor and may well be part of the cause for widespread declines in wild bee populations. The report also exposes that the current process for approving crop pesticides is inadequate for assessing risks to bees and other wildlife.
Honey bee (Apis mellifera) © Alan Stubbs

The report will be presented to Michael Jacobs the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Environmental Issues at a bee summit at Number 10 Downing Street on Wednesday 8th September.

The ongoing disappearance of wild bees and Honey bees is disastrous, eroding to pollination services worth £12.4 Billion in the EU and risking increased crop failures, but the causes of these declines are still a mystery. Pesticides, disease and starvation are on the suspect list, and recent work has indicated that Colony Collapse Disorder in Honey bees may be caused by an interaction between pathogens and stress factors.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are a comparatively new group of synthetic chemicals related to Nicotine that are highly toxic to insects. They are used as a coating for agricultural seeds and in pot plants. The chemicals spread throughout the plant and into the nectar and pollen that bees then eat. Scientific evidence presented in the new report shows that bees eating nectar and pollen contaminated with imidacloprid (the commonest neonicotinoid) then forage less and produce fewer offspring. Other research has shown that imidacloprid levels in rivers can cause deformities in growing mayflies.

The current approvals process for pesticides assess risks to non-target species and either attempts to reduce risk or prevents use of high risk chemicals. However, it is clear from this review that the process is inadequate regarding risks to bees as it fails to properly test for a range of sub-lethal affects and potential poisoning routes that are likely to affect bee populations in the UK countryside.

Buglife, the Soil Association, Pesticides Action Network and Bumblebee Conservation Trust are therefore calling for the suspension of all UK approvals for products containing neonicotinoids that are used outdoors and a review of all neonicotinoid approvals. In addition they are demanding that more comprehensive methodologies for assessing the effects pesticides on non-target invertebrates are incorporated into approval procedures.

“Other countries have already introduced bans to prevent neonicotinoids from harming bees.” Said Matt Shardlow CEO of Buglife. “This is the most comprehensive review of the scientific evidence yet and it has revealed the disturbing amount damage these poisons can cause to bees - it is now time for Hilary Benn to act”.

“The UK is notorious for taking the most relaxed approach to pesticide safety in the EU; Buglife’s report shows that this puts at risk pollination services vital for UK agriculture”. Said Peter Melchett, Soil Association Policy Director.

To find out more please click here to download the report on 'The Impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bumblebees, Honey bees and other non-target invertebrates'.


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