Pesticides & ciggy sounding substances

By | March 16, 2013

Bees visit flowering crops to collect nectar and pollen, to feed and sustain the colony. Unfortunately, this isn’t all they collect.

Agriculturalists understandably like to protect their crops from insects, and so spray with pesticides, insecticides and/or herbicides. These pesticides and insecticides don’t distinguish between “good” insects, and “bad” insects. What is a pest, or a weed is based on your relative perspective of what is useful or productive to you.

Honey bees in modern times are suffering from a little understood issue called CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder. It’s not entirely clear what causes colonies to collapse and die, however some studies point towards pesticides having a detrimental effect on honey bee health. In particular, a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids appears a main suspect.

When the honey bees collects nectar and pollen from a plant, they are also picking up small traces of these pesticides, inadvertently transporting them back to the hive for storage. When collected in ‘sub-lethal doses’ and aggregated in the hive, these pesticides have a little known impact to honey bee health and behaviour (due to ‘data shortcomings’). However evidence is showing it’s likely to detrimental, and can affect the central nervous system.

This week the EU voted, and turned down a two year ban on the use of neonicotinoids.

We know that pollinators such as honey bees have a huge positive, if not essential, effect on the food chain. It’s claimed that one in three mouth fulls of food need a pollinator for production. But it’s very hard to quantify, and harder to put a monetary value the pollinator’s input to the food chain. It is however, much easier to £££ quantify the agricultural industry.

I’m afraid to think that the economic (and monetary) power of lobbying groups from pesticide manufacturers and the agricultural industry will carry huge weight in this decision. It’s understandable that in comparison to scientists having difficulty proving an absolute causal link, it makes for a difficult political decision.

What I do know, is that the agricultural industry certainly depends on global pollinator health. I’m hopeful agriculturalists understand that, and are just succumbing to a short term view, in difficult economic times.

I’m hopeful that a longer term view will see the agricultural industry change to protect their essential but underpaid, and under-represented work force of pollinators, reduce their use of these (potentially) harmful substances, and work to find an alternative that benefits everyone.


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