Nature’s Voice — The Future of Bees is in Our Hands
By the end of the year, neonicotinoids insecticides can no longer be used outdoors in the European Union.
This is because recent research clearly shows that this widely used agri-chemical is toxic to invertebrates and hence is a potential contributor to the world-wide massive decline of bees.
The pesticide is related to nicotine, it literally means “new nicotine-like insecticides”, which makes it a nerve agent. Mammals, birds and other higher organisms do not appear to be harmed by it. It normally does not kill bees directly, but it impacts on their ability to forage for nectar, remember where flowers are, and find their way back to the hive, which is all severely disruptive to their life cycle.
A report prepared by the European Food Safety Authority, based on an analysis of over 1,500 studies, found that the risk to bees varied depending on the crop. For all outdoor uses the assessment indicated a high risk to bees.
Neonicotinoid based agri-chemicals have become popular in pest control as they are water soluble. This means they can be applied to soil and are taken up by plants, which reduces the risk of drift and harm to insects outside the target area.
Here in New Zealand farmers argue that neonics are generally not used on flowering crops as is the case in Europe. They say it is applied to the seed of forage crops for livestock, such as brassicas, turnips and swedes, which are eaten before the plants reach the flowering stage.
The exception is of course crops that are grown for seed production. According to an AgResearch scientist, with no known alternative, the withdrawal of neonics would pose a challenge and may require increased application of other pesticides.
Organic producers do not use neonics as it is persistent in the soil and anything that grows in these soils and produces flowers will express the toxic chemical and badly affect bees and other invertebrates.
On the domestic market, Bunnings announced in January that it would take neonics off the shelves. It appears that many people are unaware what harmful agents are included in pesticides, but we should take responsibility in our own backyards and provide for bee healthy environments which are critical for the pollination of all flora and many commercial crops.
It is now up to the Environmental Protection Authority, which is in charge of reviewing the use of bee killing neonicotinoids in this country, to decide the future of neonics as a result of the decision by the European Commission.
Ines Stäger is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a board member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and a committee member of the local branch.