by J.D. Heyes
September 30, 2012
A noted environmental writer for a top British newspaper is
questioning why governments aren't doing more to protect honeybee
pollinators from a pesticide that is dramatically thinning the
numbers of queen bees in many hives.
Damian Carrington, of The Guardian, has written recently that
a growing body of evidence indicates that common crop pesticides,
"have been shown for the first time
to seriously harm bees by damaging their renowned ability to
This new research indicates there is a
strong link between the pesticides and a dramatic decline in the
numbers of honey bees both in the United States and United Kingdom
to the tune of about 50 percent in the last 25 years alone.
"The losses pose a threat to food
supplies as bees pollinate a third of the food we such as
tomatoes, beans, apples and strawberries," he wrote.
numbers mean fewer to pollinate our food
Researchers have found that bees consuming one particular pesticide
suffered an 85 percent loss in the number of queen bees produced by
their hives, while another study indicated a doubling of
"disappeared" bees - those that were unable to return to hives after
foraging for food.
The significance of these studies, according to the journal Science,
is that they are among the first to be done in realistic, open-air
"People had found pretty trivial
effects in lab and greenhouse experiments, but we have shown
they can translate into really big effects in the field. This
has transformed our understanding," Prof. David Goulson, of the
University of Stirling, who led one of the research teams, said.
"If it's only one meter from where
they forage in a lab to their nest, even an unwell bee can
Prof. Mickael Henry of INRA in
Avignon, France, who led a separate research team, added,
"Under the effects we saw from the
pesticides, the population size would decline disastrously, and
make them even more sensitive to parasites of lack of food."
The reason for such large declines in
bee numbers remains unclear, researchers note, but pesticides,
the varroa mite and other parasites, and the destruction of flower-rich
habitats in which bees are known to feed are believed to be some of
the primary reasons, the Guardian reported.
Pesticide makers, as well as the British government, have denied
that one class of pesticide chemicals -
neonicotinoids - are causing
significant problems for bees, but other countries including
Germany, France and Italy have suspended key insecticides over fears
they are causing bees problems.
ready to act
"The UK has a robust system for
assessing risks from pesticides and all the evidence shows
neonicotinoids do not pose an unacceptable risk to honeybees
when products are used correctly.
However, we will not hesitate to act
if presented with any new evidence," said a spokesman from the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the
But Henry said the new research showed
that current approval processes for pesticides are not adequate.
"We now have enough data to say
authorization processes must take into account not only the
lethal effects, but also the effects of non-lethal doses," he
said, according to the paper.
Carrington said a powerful group of
British lawmakers (Ministers of Parliament, or MPs) is questioning
why, despite strong evidence, that nothing is being done
to stop the bee carnage.
"We will be announcing details of
the inquiry soon. In the meantime, Defra ministers may want to
start doing their homework on pesticide policy and biodiversity,
because we will be calling them before parliament to answer
questions on these issues," wrote Joan Walley MP, who chairs the
House of Commons environmental audit committee, a powerful
cross-party group that acts as parliament's green watchdog, in a
letter to the Guardian.