Today, the European Commission will present a discussion paper to Member State experts at a meeting of the standing committee on pesticides. The aim is to exchange views on the range of policy options available, in light of the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) report findings published on 16 January, which assessed the effect of three pesticides on bee health. “Protecting the health of our bee population is of great importance not only for our European agricultural sector but also for our eco-system and environment as a whole.” The EFSA findings identified risks to using three neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin, which are mainly used to treat seeds prior to sowing, on oilseed rape, maize and cereals.
There have been numerous reasons posited for the bee die-offs covered in the news over the past years – exposure to a cocktail of pesticides has been found to be one potential major culprit. This is probably not welcome news to those who rely on the pesticides, either in farming or in the chemical industry. It is also one of those spaces where decisions have to be made about what has more lasting importance – pollinators, or the way we have gotten used to farming over just the past few decades.
According to a report by the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: It is estimated that about one third of all plants or plant products eaten by humans are directly or indirectly dependent on bee pollination. More than half of the world’s diet of fat and oil comes from oilseeds such as cotton, rape, sunflower, coconut, groundnut and oil palm. Even though some of these have special pollinators belonging to other types of insects, these plants all depend on, or benefit from bee pollination to some extent. In addition, many food crops and forage for cattle are grown from seeds of insect-pollinated plants. The great value of bees as pollinators has been known for many years,
but unfortunately, this knowledge is not widely appreciated and understood.
The value of bee pollination in Western Europe is estimated to be 30-50 times the value of honey and wax harvests in this region. In Africa, bee pollination is sometimes estimated to be 100 times the value of the honey harvest, depending on the type of crop.
In a country like Denmark, about 3,000 tonnes of honey is harvested every year. It has a value of 60 million DKK or about €7.6 million. However, the value of oilseeds, fruits and berries created by the pollination work of bees is estimated to be between 1,600 and 3,000 million DKK, equivalent to €200 and €400 million.
The effectiveness of honeybees is due to their great number, their social life and their ability to pollinate a broad variety of different flowers. A colony can consist of 20-80 000 bees, and they will normally be visiting flowers over a distance of two kilometres when they are collecting pollen and nectar. If nothing is to find in the neighbourhood, they can fly even seven kilometres. A normal Apis mellifera honeybee colony will make up to four million flights a year, where about 100 flowers are visited in each flight.
There’s a petition to lend weight to those calling for pesticides to be more carefully controlled when it comes to honeybee exposure.
UPDATE: Neonicotinoids were banned in the EU for a period of two years, beginning December 1, 2013.