In case you missed it, the big environmental news this week was the EU banning three types of bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides to protect bees from further decline. A victory for bees! But will it mean the rosy future everyone expects?
Environmental groups have been campaigning for years to promote bee-friendly activities and farming – you may have seen Friends of the Earth Bee Cause campaign, Neal’s Yard Remedies with Bee Lovely Campaign and Melvita supported bee campaigns through its Melvita Foundation. Even fashion designers Katherine Hamnett and Dame Vivienne Westwood took to the streets to protest this week.
The good news is that the EU implemented a two-year continent-wide restriction (starting 1st December 2013) on the use of three types of neonicontinoids, the super-strength strain of pesticides linked to the dramatic decline in bee populations. This temporary ban should give bee populations a chance to recover and buy scientists more time to investigate the problem.
Sounds like great news doesn’t it, however, I looked a little more closely at the counter-argument and the potential situation bees might face as a result and it could be quite worrying.
It’s been well reported that the UK did not support the ban as our Environment Minister Owen Paterson felt the evidence was incomplete and that a ban could have detrimental effects on farmers and food production costs.
There’s been strong lobbying against the ban from farming groups and pesticide manufacturers (of course!) for several years despite over 30 separate scientific studies showing the link between neonicotinoids on insects’ nerve endings and falling bee numbers.
Then Farmer’s Weekly report this week said farmers will face a ‘catastrophic blow’ from the ban and will potentially resort to older forms of pesticides ‘with potentially worse environmental impact for bees.‘
“We now expect farmers to use products such as pyrethroids that we know are hazardous to bees,” said Tim Lovett, of British Beekeepers Association. So far, not good.
The National Farmer’s Union said: “Banning neonicotinoids will put pressure on agrochemical businesses to develop a treatment which will have the same effects.” That sounds pretty worrying to me.
Now I’m no farmer or environmental expert so it’s difficult to tell the level of scaremongering going on from each side – the farming industry is warning us bees will not be better off with the alternatives farmers will be forced to use and predicting dire consequences for all.
I understand farmers have to keep yields high and keep virus-carrying aphids and beetles away from crops; after all their livelihoods depend on supplying pretty perfect vegetables for supermarkets to stock our shelves with. But instead of throwing more chemicals at the problem why don’t they try to come up with alternative solutions?? If it’s not one strain of pesticide, it’s another more harmful one…
From the little I’ve read and learnt from organic farming pioneers such as Neal’s Yard Remedies and Weleda, which adopts biodynamic farming methods, I believe crop-rotation, growing nitrogen-balancing crops and using manure to improve soil are just a few of the many strategies for pesticide-free farming.
Organisations such as PAN (Pesticide Action Network) work across 90 countries to ‘replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives.’ Some years ago PAN and Friends of the Earth wrote Breaking the Pesticide Chain which detailed how to adopt an organic, biodynamic, permaculture approach to farming.
‘The main goal is not how to replace specific pesticides but how to redesign agricultural cropping systems.’
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if farming groups around the world adopted even just a few pesticide-free approaches? Chemical companies wouldn’t be so powerful and we’d all have clean food to eat. What a dream! Is this just an utopian view on how to solve the problem? No. That’s why organic, bio-dynamic and permaculture farming exists and that’s why we should support it because the bigger the movement grows the more conventional farmers will take notice and see it as a viable alternative that works.
A few facts…
Neonicotinoids have been used by the farming industry for the last 20 years but for the past ten years bee-keepers have noticed a massive decline in honeybee and bumblebees which has incredibly serious consequences on world pollination and food supplies.
Scientists who have studied neonicotinoids in the UK and France said they found evidence bees become disorientated by the chemicals which then prevents them from finding their way back to hives. This then causes colony collapse disorder. However there are other factors that are known to contribute to declining bee populations and these include loss of habitat, nutrition, the varroa mite reduced immune system defences to parasites and increased exposure to pesticides.
Read more on both sides of the argument:
What do you think???