Friday, 9 December 2016

The need for bee protection recognized, 29 November 2016:

After the two-year moratorium on three types of neonicotinoid pesticides, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) this month issued an unfavourable opinion on two of the chemicals, for uses that are still authorised. EurActiv’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

Following EFSA’s conclusions confirming the toxicity of neonicotinoids for pollinators, the European Commission issued a moratorium on three chemicals: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. This moratorium expired in December 2015 and is currently being reviewed at European level.

But the scope of the suspension was narrow. It only applied to the treatment of seeds or soils for crops that are attractive to bees (except greenhouse crops and winter cereals) and the spraying of crops that attract the pollinators (except post-flowering and greenhouse crops).

According to a new opinion issued by EFSA, several uses of two of these chemicals (clothianidin and imidacloprid, produced by Bayer), including the treatment of winter cereals, still pose significant threats to pollinators such as bees and bumblebees. Only the report on thiametoxam is still to be delivered, and a similar conclusion is expected.

The two-year European moratorium (2013-2015) is currently under review, and these latest opinions from EFSA could lead to the implementation of a total ban. An outcome supported by the European Pesticide Action Network (PAN), which says these products are “near the end”.

France’s biodiversity bill, published in August, foresees a complete ban on neonicotinoids in September 2018, with possible derogations until 2020.

Chronic exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides has been linked to reduced survival of pollinating insects at both the individual and colony level, but so far only experimentally. Analyses of large-scale datasets to investigate the real-world links between the use of neonicotinoids and pollinator mortality are lacking. Moreover, the impacts of neonicotinoid seed coatings in reducing subsequent applications of foliar insecticide sprays and increasing crop yield are not known, despite the supposed benefits of this practice driving widespread use. Here, we combine large-scale pesticide usage and yield observations from oilseed rape with those detailing honey bee colony losses over an 11 year period, and reveal a correlation between honey bee colony losses and national-scale imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid) usage patterns across England and Wales.

The Australasian Beekeeper, 30 August 2016:

Honey bee populations in Australia are in crisis. The numbers of bees under the care of commercial honey producers are at an all time low. Commercial beekeepers wintering losses of thirty per cent are now accepted as the norm, according to Des Cannon, Editor of The ABK. Bee diseases have never been more prevalent in Australia. Every commercial beekeeper is battling disease and this battle is a full time job. A battle fought by beekeepers alone at the expense of their own time and money.

Eight out of ten (or more) commercial beekeepers are reliant on antibiotic to keep their bees alive. The choice is between dosing or death. Contamination of honey with antibiotic is a live issue. Yet the Australian government, honey packers and pesticide companies have not acknowledged the battle our beekeepers are fighting. In fact, it is a massive cover up. If we haven’t got a problem, we can’t fix it.

The frontline brandished by government, honey packers and pesticide companies to defer any concern for the honeybee is that ‘the Australian honeybee is not in decline, despite the increased use of this group of insecticides [sic. neonicotinoids] in agriculture and horticulture since the mid 1990’s’. This statement was taken from the ‘Overview Report, Neonicotinoids and the health of honeybees in Australia’, 2014, published by the APVMA, author Les Davis1. An unfounded statement and simplistic argument, contrary to the anecdotal evidence of beekeepers Australia wide. Estimates of hive numbers alone are not a true barometer of the health of Australian bees, the old law is ‘breed bees or gather honey’. Beekeepers today are faced with a situation of constantly see-sawing hive numbers as hives collapse and are supported back to health. Most hives in Australia right now are way down on bee numbers. Len Walker of Inverell, the head of one of Australia’s most experienced beekeeping families, claims fifty per cent losses of hives in his country. He states that a real sign of the present weakened bee populations is the fact that bees need to be checked for strength prior to going onto almonds.

Despite the government asserting good bee health in Australia, estimates of bee populations published by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and cited by the APVMA in correspondence to me still show a decline in managed hives. From 2006-2007 to 2014 there was a decline of 81,765 hives2. This makes the statement that ‘Australian honeybee populations are not in decline’ from the APVMA 2014 Neonicotinoid report a sham, if not a shame.

The European Union, Canada and the United States of America have partially or completely banned neonicotinoids based on a mounting body of scientific concern. The Australian government at least concedes the likelihood of complex sublethal effects of neonicotinoids, yet has not taken a stand on the use of neonics, which should be the underpinnings of any environmental management.

This begs the question to whose interests are the government vested in? The long-term sustainability of our beekeeping industry and food security or the dollar interest of pesticide corporations? Pesticide corporations continue to have a field day in Australia at the expense of our honeybees and beekeepers’ pockets.

There are over 900 scientific, peer-reviewed studies globally indicating that neonics are having severe negative effects on pollinators and suggesting regulatory agencies apply principles of prevention and precaution to all neonicotinoids.

The European Academies Science Advisory Council (April 2015)3, World Integrated Assessment advisory committee (Jan 2015)4 and the Belgian Superior Health Council (June 2016)5 have all reached the same conclusion through comprehensive reviews of independent and industry sponsored science. Furthermore they state that there are gaps in the science examining the complexity of ecosystem-wide sublethal effects. They raise concerns for the persistence, mobility and water solubility of neonicotinoids and call for a review of the adequacy of current toxic reference levels upon which the ‘safety’ of neonics are being reasoned3,4,5. Resultant is an EU wide ban of thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid. And the EU continues to review these pesticides and tighten regulations for all neonicotinoids. Montreal, Canada called a total moratorium on the use of all neonicotinoids on December 10, 2015. The irrefutable consensus is that neonics harm the honeybee. So why is Australia so far behind the rest of the world?......

In Australia neonicotinoids are everywhere. They are the most widely used pesticides. It is important to understand the way neonicotinoids operate within ecosystems and the neurological system of the honeybee to understand the full threat of these pesticides. What we are up against are chemicals that have insidious sublethal and complicated effects on bees and these effects are difficult to assess.

The honeybee is a highly social insect and relies on complex communication and navigational skills for foraging behaviour and hive survival. Previous studies have examined individual field behaviour only. But it is the ‘system’ aspect that needs to be observed9,10. Neonics disrupt and incapacitate the honeybee’s abilities to communicate and navigate; as a result the critical function at the colony level is damaged and breaks down6. Bees require a lot of grooming within the hive to survive. The last thing you feel like doing when you are sick is brushing your wife’s hair.

Neonicotinoids are completely water soluble and biologically persistent with a half-life of 19 years in heavy soil16. Seeds coated with neonicotinoid will contain the pesticide throughout the grown plant. The honeybee is routinely and chronically exposed to neonicotinoids by consuming pollen, guttation drops, nectar and honeydew11,13.

Treated seeds contains the highest concentrations of neonicotinoids. The broadscale use of neonics to coat seed rather than the discriminatory use of these pesticides as a last resort has become common practice in Australia, a practice banned in the EU and criticised widely3,4,5. The amount required for sublethal effects is three parts per billion. This equates to a pin prick divided many times in the bottom of a litre bottle. The coating on one clover seed in a litre of water is enough to kill your hive. The neonicotinoid on one coated corn seed is enough to kill 80,000 bees. One individual canola seed may contain 1 milligram of active ingredient4,13,14,16,18.

You may need to wonder about the water soluble neonicotinoid coating on hundreds of thousands of canola seeds after two inches of rain. Bees drink a lot of water. And where are your bees drinking from? Everyone has seen bees lined up around pools of muddy water in the canola paddocks. This is a main entrance into your beehives15.

Partial restrictions on neonics to crops that bees aren’t attracted to are futile due to the solubility of these compounds. Corridors and verges of native flora adjacent to agricultural lands (Ti-tree species near sugar-cane, and turnip weed as particularly important examples) are contaminated with neonic pesticides. The contamination from agricultural land is so far widespread, affecting underground water tables, wetlands, creeks and river systems and binding to soils4,15…….

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