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Save the bees

Save the bees

A new ban on insecticides by the European Union has been agreed in a bid to save bees. The ban comes after a report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) showed that neonicotinoids pose a high risk to the population of wild bees and honey bees.

The report, which was released in February, said that “There is variability in the conclusions, due to factors such as the bee species, the intended use of the pesticide and the route of exposure […]” but that “overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed.”

The risk to bees occurs when soil and water are contaminated with chemical substances, which in turn pollute flowers and crops which the bees pollinate. The three largest neonicotinoids, clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, can cause navigation and memory problems in bees. Additional studies have shown that neonicotinoids have been found in honey samples.  

But why does the decline in bees matter?

75% of the world’s principal crops rely on pollinators, of which bees are vital, and their declining numbers pose a huge threat to business and food production. Greenpeace state that Honey bees (wild and domestic) are responsible for approximately 80% of all pollination worldwide.

At the moment 35 species of bee in the UK alone are under threat of extinction. The risk of declining bees is so established that food conglomerates like Asda, the Body Shop and Pepsico have all pledged action.

European commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis said: “Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment.”

Whilst the choice has been supported by a large number of environmentalists, it has also been opposed by some farmers who state the importance of neonicotinoids in pest control.

Guy Smith, deputy president of the UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU) stated that: “The pest problems that neonicotinoids helped farmers tackle have not gone away. There is a real risk that these restrictions will do nothing measurable to improve bee health, while compromising the effectiveness of crop protection.” The move is good news for sustainable farming, though, with the ban on pesticides in outdoor spaces likely to force farmers toward more ecological methods. 

The UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister, Michael Gove is in support of proactive action, having previously commented: “We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk. The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood.”

It will certainly be interesting to see how European agriculture is affected by the ban, and whether the move comes too late to save the declining bee population which is also under threat from habitat destruction.

Global leaders certainly still have a long way to go in the fight to save the bees, but the race is very much on. 

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