Farm Press Blog

Pesticides on brink of ban over honey bee losses

RSS
  • A neonicotinoid ban might cost Europe up to $23 billion and put 50,000 jobs on the chopping block. For U.S. agriculture, the neonicotinoid outcome in Europe may serve as a regulatory road map.

Honey bees are a massive global business, responsible for a third of the world’s food production. Honey bees provide $15 billion in added U.S. crop value each year, and as the USDA reports, “About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.”

It’s difficult to overstate honey bee significance to the planet’s food security. And since 2006, after the bullrush onset of Colony Collapse Disorder, scientists and beekeepers have looked for a source of blame; a cause to explain millions of abandoned hives and billions of dead bees.

The EU, mainly based on the research of Italian biologist Marco Lodesani, thinks it has fingered the culprit: neonicotinoid pesticides. According to Businessweek, three years of research led Lodesani to a conclusion of toxic poisoning: “Our findings show that the bee colonies are dying off in such large numbers, and that the link is pesticides,” said Lodesani. He added that the ‘pharma’ link, as he calls it, is strong enough to rule out other suspected causes, such as a deadly virus, as a principle cause for colony deaths.”

The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA), took Lodesani’s report and ran with it. As a result, neonicotinoid pesticides are on the brink of European ban. On March 14-15, the EU’s 27 member states will vote on a proposed two-year neonicotinoid ban; ratification will require a majority vote and if passed, the ban will go into effect on July 1. Narrowed down, the neonicotinoid legislation puts three chemicals in the crosshairs: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

The makers of the three pesticides — Syngenta and Bayer CropScience — say the EU is responding in knee-jerk fashion, and label the EFSA report as fundamentally flawed. From a Syngenta release: “Further review has now shown that EFSA based its assessment on unrealistic and excessive seed planting rates between two and four times higher than would be used under modern agricultural practice. Had EFSA used normal sowing rates they would have concluded that the risk to bees is extremely low and that in reality neonicotinoid technology does not damage their health.”

Who is correct? Syngenta and Bayer — or the EFSA and Lodesani? The financial stakes are extremely high: A neonicotinoid ban might cost Europe up to $23 billion over a five year stretch and put 50,000 jobs on the chopping block, according to Businessweek. Europe’s farmer unions, never shy about parking their tractors across from legislative buildings or battling with riot police, are keenly watching the developments.

At present, the proposed ban targets only neonicotinoid pesticide use on crops that are attractive to bees. But Syngenta and Bayer recognize that the proposed legislation is a first-step measure, heavily laden with future intent. If the prohibition of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam is passed — activist groups will move for a permanent neonicotinoid ban.

Europe’s politicians will pat themselves on the back if a ban is enacted, but beyond the self-congratulations, the questions remain. What about Varroa mites, lack of pollen and nectar supplies, pathogens, and historical bee die-offs before the use of pesticides? The answers appear far more complicated than the research presented by EFSA.

(See related: Honey bee losses defy solitary explanations)

Across the globe, California may be the bellwether location for honey bee significance; and no crop details this better than almonds. California’s 800,000 acres of almonds require 1.6 million bee colonies for pollination services each year (two colonies per acre). Eighty percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California and the 2013 almond crop will likely be worth $3 billion.

For U.S. agriculture and California, the neonicotinoid outcome in Europe may serve as a regulatory road map. The Environmental Protection Agency, currently taking its own look at neonicotinoids, is watching the events play out in Europe. Unless the review process is expedited, EPA’s neonicotinoid findings are expected in 2018.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 8, 2013

We need a little serious investigative reporting on these questions rather than just an unquestioned parroting of whatever the pesticide industry puts out. The $23 billion dollars and 50,000 jobs figures come from the Humboldt Forum For Food and Agriculture, an industry funded front group. These figures were rushed into the public eye in anticipation of the European vote and make no consideration of the massive environmental costs. One qualified analyst called their findings "laughable", but for the sake of discussion, let's accept those figures for the moment. Who should stand those costs, the farmers, the taxpayers? I think not. These companies knowingly led agriculture into a disastrous technology they knew at the outset would fail, by design. Those costs, if indeed there are any beyond the industry scare tactics, should come out of the billions of ill-gotten profits. There are now rumblings of lawsuits by these companies in Europe for their supposed losses. This is like a burglar suing a homeowner for putting a lock on their door to keep from being burgled further. It is time to put these environmental criminals where they belong, behind bars.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 8, 2013

“Europe’s farmer unions, never shy about parking their tractors across from legislative buildings or battling with riot police” Ok if nothing else is working lets start throwing some threats in there and scare tactics in there. Lets proceed with the ban.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 9, 2013

The $23 billion and 50,000 jobs figures come from the Humboldt Forum For Food and Agriculture, an industry funded front group, and these statistics were rushed into the public eye to influence the pending vote in the EU to ban some of the systemic pesticides. One qualified analyst called the claims "laughable". No consideration was given to the huge environmental costs of these pesticides, but for the sake of discussion let's just accept those figures for the moment. Who should stand those losses? The farmers? The taxpayers? No. These companies knowingly led agriculture and society into a destructive technology that they knew from the outset would fail, by design. Those losses should be compensated from the billions of ill-gotten profits. How about some serious investigative reporting instead of parroting whatever lies and unsupported misrepresentations these companies choose to put out?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 10, 2013

Hopefully these neurotoxins will be temporarily banned so we can move forward in to the causes of CCD.

Please or Register to post comments.

What's Farm Press Blog?

The Farm Press Daily Blog

Connect With Us

Blog Archive
Continuing Education
Potassium nitrate has a positive effect in controlling plant pests and diseases when applied...
This online CE course details sound mechanical irrigation design and management practices to...