Guard the Bees! Why is Regulated use of Plant Protection Products Important
While bees are often associated with honey production first and foremost – that, and sunny-day stings – the value that they bring to humans is often not fully understood. In fact, one third of the food that we eat is dependent on bees’ work as pollinators. The work of bees is so vital to our farming that without them, there would be significantly less agricultural produce which in turn could result in food shortages. Bees are vital for hundreds of vegetables and oilseeds as well as certain forage plants that livestock depend on such as clover. The work of bees accounts for pollinating as much as one-sixth of the world’s flowering plants and approximately 400 different kinds of agricultural plants. As well as this, bees themselves are part of a food chain. No human activity or ingenuity can replace the work of bees.
Yet, sadly, the population of bees is in decline globally. Beekeepers are seeing a decline of 30% on average during the last decade, and as much as 40% decline between 2013 and 2014. Beekeepers in the USA reported losing 28% of bee colonies during the winter of 2015/2016. Europe fares slightly better reporting losses of almost 12% the same winter. While the number of bee populations always have typically reduced in winter, these losses are in danger of being incapable of replenishment during the summer months, particularly in the USA. The phenomenon of shrinking bee populations, first discovered in 2007, is knows as Colony Collapse Disorder.
Why is the Bee Population Declining
The cause or causes of the decline in bee colonies is multifaceted. A number of complex factors are contributing to the problem and research is ongoing. However, it is believed that certain agricultural and industrial practices are major players in hampering bees work. Pesticides, pollution and parasites have all been linked to this problem. In order for bees to be able to forage, they require advanced capabilities for learning and navigation. If a bee’s ability to forage and make it back to the nest is compromised by its environment, is likely to result in the bee dying. These compromising factors are known as environmental stressors. A 2017 study suggested even the slightest of stressors can have serious negative impact on a bee’s brain. It damages important cognitive functions required while foraging. This, it is suggested, has devastating consequences for procreation and colony survival.
The world’s largest ever field trial on the affect of insecticides on bee populations, including the bumble bee has confirmed that these toxic substances are having detrimental consequences for bees and other wildlife. The research, carried out on a widely used farm pesticide classified as neonicotinoids, which is directly toxic to bees, suggests that there is more widespread contamination of landscapes which is brought about by the “cocktail effect” of using a number of these pesticides together. It was found that some of the bees were foraging on oil seed rape, which puts them in great danger. For these reasons, it is imperative for the survival of bees, that the use of these pesticides is regulated.
In the EU, which as one of the strictest regulatory systems in the world with regard to the use of pesticides, neonicotinoids are banned from being used in any member states, including Ireland. Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 provides the criteria for the approval of certain active substances which includes criteria relating to honey bees. This Regulation lays down new “data requirements” for pesticide dossiers. Commission Regulation (EU) 283/2013 and Commission Regulation (EU) 284/2013 require dossiers with active substances and plant protection products to comply with the minimum data requirements. These developments further strengthen the plant protection products process of authorisation.
Furthermore, in an effort to protect honeybees, Regulation (EU) No 485/2013 greatly restricts the use of plant protection products and treated seeds containing three of these neonicotinoids. The European Council states that it is committed to reducing the affect of agricultural toxins on bees. The EU Council continues to monitor any connection between bee health and pesticides.
These scripting and enforcing of these Regulations is a positive nod to the fact that authorities are paying attention. They are taking action to help save, and possibly grow bee colonies in the EU. With Europe at the lower end of the scale in terms of bee colony reduction globally (though not the lowest); these regulatory frameworks may be having the intended effect. However, there is still some way to go. Countries like the USA and China will need to take stricter legislative action on the use of pesticides if the bee population is to survive globally.