Bees in the Eaves

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Honeybees under the eaves Photo: PK Read

Honeybees under the eaves
Photo: PK Read

For the third year running, a bee colony has taken up residence in a roof corner of our house. We thought about having them removed, but thus far they don’t seem to be doing any harm. We don’t hear them, they don’t come into the house, and they can’t extend their realm by much because the wall upon which the roof sits is made of stone. We’ve had a couple of beekeepers offer to try and take the swarm before they settle in spring – one of these years, we might try that. For now, considering the stress bees are under right now around the world, we’re letting them stay. In the UK alone, bee populations have dropped by an estimated 10-15% over the past couple of years.

The European Union, over the objections of several member states (including the UK) the recent EU ban on neonicotonoid pesticides to assess the effect of these substances on honeybees – this will likely also have a positive effect on pollinators in general. Pesticide producers (including Bayer and Syngenta) are firm in their conviction that the banned products do not play a role in the undisputed decline of honeybees (and other pollinators), and cite industry-funded studies as proof of safety.

As it turns out, these products are relatively new. Neonicotinoids are the first plant-derived insecticide. Just fifteen years after their commercial introduction, neonicotinoids are most widely used pesticides on the planet, and generate over $2 billion in sales annually.

Studies show the concern of their safety to the environment, nonetheless they are widely held to be comparatively safer  to mammals, birds and plants than earlier, synthetic organophosphate and carbamate insecticides. Manufacturers warn that with the neonicotinoid ban in place, farmers may opt to use these earlier insecticides. With the high revenues and global popularity of neonicotinoids, it should come as no surprise that producers would try to tout the safety of their products.

This is a clear case of regulation vs. strong commercial interests, where the free market may not necessarily arrive at the best and safest solution. A 2012 post at Scientific Beekeeping offers a balanced approach to the whole discussion, yet comes out against a ban because evidence isn’t yet ‘conclusive’.

Even if neonicotinoids are simply the final drop that forces the cup of impacts on bee colony collapse to overflow, the precautionary approach would still seem prudent. Hopefully, this precautionary approach will be implemented elsewhere, as well.

Relevance of honeybees to US agriculture Source: Fastcodesign.com

Relevance of honeybees to US agriculture, and threats to U.S. honeybees
Source: Fastcodesign.com

More:

European Environment Agency (EEA) article – Neonicotinoid pesticides are a huge risk

Marketline.com article – Agrochemical majors hit by EU’s neonicotinoid ban by Mike Toohey

Agropages.com Buyer’s Guide overview – Neonicotinoid Insecticides Insight

2006 study commenting on early safety concerns re:  neonicotinoids – Neonicotinoid Insecticides by Uok Kim

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