HONEYBEES IN DANGER – by MEP Catherine Grèze, for EP Today

Bees are not making the buzz while their decline is an ongoing problem. Honeybees are crucial to the production of crops: one third of our human diet is directly dependent on them, making them central to our existence. Yet a significant increase in honeybee mortality has been observed these years. Some weeks ago, headlines were about Europe lacking seven billion honeybees to pollinate its crops. Due to the increase in biofuel production, the demand for insect pollination across Europe is outpacing the growth of honeybee colonies. The threats facing bees are legion: the factor believed to be the cause of bee losses is not a single one; rather it appears to be a combination of problems. But as we will see, pesticide exposure plays a major part in this phenomenon.
Aerial spraying of pesticides was a current practice in France, in hilly areas difficult to reach for motor vehicles. On top of destroying bees, it was affecting the health of residents and contaminating rivers. Two years ago, beekeepers decided to no longer tolerate this outdated practice. At European level, aerial spraying of pesticides is regulated by Directive 2009/128/EC: article 9 provides for the ban of aerial spraying, exception of derogations may be granted by Member States under very restricted conditions. I decided to warn the European Commission that with such practice, the ‘Habitats’ and ‘Birds’ Directives were clearly not being complied with. I also wrote to the French Minister of Agriculture Stephane le Foll. Along with the mobilization of beekeepers and civil society, this led to the ban of the practice by the French Government. But against all odds, it seems that this decision could be defeated, we therefore should remain vigilant.
The « neonicotinoids » are a kind of pesticides very harmful to bees. They are a relatively new type of insecticide that spread throughout the plant in its tissues, including pollen and nectar. Neonicotinoid exposure is thought to have a wide range of negative effects, scrambling a bee’s ability to navigate, destroying the immune system and leaving the bee vulnerable to parasites. Last April, the European Union voted to ban them: it was a victory! Nevertheless, this ban will only last for two years.
If scientific uncertainty remains about GMOs, we know that they encourage the use of pesticides. This is the reason why beekeepers are strongly against them. Two weeks ago, a report about honey was discussed in Strasbourg. What was at stake was the denomination of pollen as constituent or ingredient of honey. With my political group, I considered that nominating pollen an ingredient would have been an occasion to label GMOs. Indeed, according to the GMO) regulation, only GMO content above 0.9 % of a product or its ingredients needs to be labeled. Unfortunately, the Parliament rejected this proposal.
Apart from pesticides, some predators of honeybees are becoming more numerous. It is the case of the Asiatic hornet, a non-native species of hornets which has invaded France in 2004 and caused significant harm on bee colonies. Given the speed at which it is spreading, the Asian hornet could soon be a problem all over Europe. I therefore wrote again to the European Commission and the Minister of Agriculture. There was unanimity among beekeepers that sulphur dioxide (SO²) was the only product identified as being effective in destroying Asian hornet nests. Though it is toxic, it would be harmless to people and the environment if used correctly. However, using it against the Asian hornet has been currently banned because it was not listed in the European Register for Biocidal Products. Eventually, The Agence Nationale de Sécurité Sanitaire (Anses) ruling confirmed the view of the beekeepers about sulphur dioxide.
I just received news that since the authorization entered into force, more than 1500 nest were destroyed in Aquitaine, one of the more affected region.
We should mobilize against these various factors of the mass death of bees!

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