Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bee Colony Collapse Disorder: Time to ban the Bayer pesticides

John Penrose MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

CCD and Neo-nicotinoids

I know that as a bee-keeper, you are concerned about CCD. The current line of thinking is that the cause of CCD is multi-factorial, with diseases like Varroa, Nosema ceranae, Spirolasma, loss of pollen diversity in rural areas, migratory pollination, and pesticides counted among the potential factors.

Reports that urban bee populations are not falling as rapidly as rural bee populations argue against Varroa and other infections, since there is no evidence that the urban environment should be protective against such infections. This narrows the explanation down to the increased availability of garden flower pollen in towns, and/or the relative or absolute absence of pesticides in towns.

We have previously discussed the role of systemic pesticides, especially the neo-nicotinoids and fipronil, which act on the bees’ nervous systems.  Neo-nicotinoid introduction in 2005 is closely associated in time with reports of CCD.

As you know, France banned the use of imidacloprid on sunflower crops in 1999, but its use was continued on corn, and also the neo-nicotinoids were replaced with fipronil, which also affects the bee nervous system.  I understand that there is a partial recovery in France.  Germany banned them in 2008. Slovenia has also banned them.  Italy banned them in 2008 and in 2009 there was a report that no widespread mortality had occurred in Northern Italy, where the ban had taken place. In Southern Italy, where the neo-nicotinoids were still used on citrus groves, mortality continued unabated.

Naturally, Bayer are fighting back, presenting evidence of the safety of their products, but my understanding is that their studies do not look at sub-lethal effects, while on the other hand, more detailed toxicological studies are finding disorientating effects at ever-lower doses.

It is noteworthy that Bayer, as you know, has been donating heavily to the BBKA, although I understand that this has now, rightly, been stopped.

There is a clear prima facie case for the Government to follow France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia in banning the use of neo-nicotinoids and fipronil. The precautionary principle, which the Government supports, demands it. 

I know that this will put you in a dilemma. As a bee-keeper, you would wish to do anything to protect the bee population. On the other hand, as a Conservative, you will shrink from any Government interference with Bayer’s freedom to market its products. You will probably wish to temporise by saying that “there is no proof” that Bayer’s products are causing CCD, and that more scientific work needs to be done.

In answer to this, I would remind you that science does not do “proof”. The best status that a scientific theory can attain is “not yet disproven”.  It took 20 years and 20,000 scientific papers to “prove” (i.e. obtain general consensus) that smoking causes lung cancer. We cannot wait this long in the case of CCD.

I would point out secondly that the ban itself can form an important part of the scientific process.  If recovery does take place after a complete ban, that is pretty good evidence of a causal relationship between the neo-nicotinoids and CCD.

Third, if scientists continue to regard the problem as multifactorial, with pesticides as one of the factors, I would point out that a pesticide ban is the one factor that is within our control, and is capable of being taken out of the equation.

For a detailed scientific review, I recommend The impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bumblebees, Honey bees and other nontarget
Invertebrates (revised version), Vicky Kindemba 2009 .  This has evidence of low level long term toxicity. 

So the Government has a choice. Either it can back Bayer, and continue to pour money into research for an indefinite time, while the bee population declines, taking UK fruit and arable productivity with it, or it can follow the example of other countries, and ban the use of a product for which there is now reasonable evidence of being a strong suspect.

I would see this as a watershed decision as to whether the coalition is, as was proclaimed in the election,  “green”, or is in fact inclined to put the financial interests of one large corporation before the interests of the bee population and of the nation’s food supply.

I will be very interested to learn which of the two options, an immediate ban, or a delay in order to support Bayer’s profits,  you and your Government will choose.

Wish best wishes, as ever

[Update: Avaaz have a petition here]

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