Wednesday, August 05, 2009

To keep bees or not to keep bees?

The now buzz is about Bees. Bees are the bees knees. Someone has designed a Beehaus.

Government has given £10 million for bee research.

I'm all for more beekeepers. (It's not for me though - I am having enough trouble with slugs and blight, I don't want the death of 50,000 bees on my conscience).

However, I will provide a habitat for masonry bees, who seem to do most of the work around here anyway.

But there is an elephant in the hive that nobody is talking about.

Colony Collapse Disorder. Big threat to our honey bees, and if they go, big losses in agriculture due to lack of pollination.

What causes CCD? Nobody knows. But we have a clue: it began in the mid 1990s, after the introduction of the Neonicotinoid pesticides by Bayer. This does not "prove" anything. Not a thing, because in science, nothing is ever proven, only not-yet disproven. So Bayer will bay that "there is no proof that its product is responsible for CCD" and Government will grunt its assent, its snout comfortably in the trough of corporate generosity.

It took 20 years and 20,000 to get everyone to agree that smoking causes lung cancer. We do not have that kind of time.

So we need to do an experiment. Here's what to do:

Pull the neonicotinoids off the market. Recall all present stocks. And see what happens to the bees. If they recover, if CCD becomes a thing of the past, Bayer has some explaining to do. If CCD continues, woops, sorry Mr Bayer, here is your licence back, extended to cover the hiatus.

There is some evidence that banning neonicotinoids can help recovery. France banned some in 1999.

In France, honey production in the 100 million-euro (150 million-dollar) apiculture sector dropped by half over a nine-year period to 18,000 tonnes in 2007, according to agriculture ministry statistics...But last winter, bee populations in France only shed about 10 percent of their numbers -- a normal seasonal loss.

Many scientists, and most beekeepers, attributed the first good news in a decade of decline to the banning of Regent and Gaucho, two pesticides thought to enter the hives through the pollen collected by the bees, especially from France's ubiquitous sunflowers.

If so, recovery took a long time, but this would be because other pesticides are still operative, and because CCD is a systems failure, not a single cause and effect problem. Neo-nics affect bees' immune systems as well as their nervous systems, so their resistance to varroa goes down, so varroa is more plentiful, so more hives get infected, so Bayer and the DEFRA-duffers can put it all down to varroa or anything rather than a money-making product.

So is it reasonable to ban neonicotinoids? - yes. Liable to happen in the UK? - no.

Because Government officers and Ministers would rather wipe all of nature 100% totally and completely off the face of the earth, than be seen to be acting against the commercial interests of a big corporation.

Think that line is OTT? Then prove me wrong. Please.

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