“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”  Albert Einstein –

Amid the doom and gloom of the EU’s new regulation on seeds let’s not forget a major victory: The new legislation to ban neonicotinoid insecticides due to there damaging impact to bee populations. This is great news for the insects that are responsible for pollination of three quarters of our food. The ban is based on new research into the chemicals which have been carried out for the first time in the field, rather than lab conditions. The study, published in Science, 20 April 2012 found that colonies treated with the pesticides had a ‘85% reduction in production of new queens compared with control colonies’ and that ‘neonicotinoids, we suggest… may be having a considerable negative impact on wild bumble bee populations across the developed world.’

ban neonics

The 50% drop in UK and US bee populations that we have seen in the last 25 years is strongly linked with use of these chemicals.

The ban was met with support by scientists, farmers and civil society. “The ban is excellent news for pollinators.” said Prof Simon Potts, a bee expert at the University of Reading. Andrew Pendleton, of Friends of the Earth said: “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations.”

Positive reception however was not universal. UK secretary for the Environment, Owen Patterson and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (DEFRA) openly expressed their opposition to the progressive legislation.  ‘All the evidence shows neonicotinoids do not pose an unacceptable risk to honeybees when products are used correctly,’ said a DEFEA spokesperson.

The link between DEFRA’s stance and its cosy relationship the biotech industry was made clear by information obtained by the Observer under a  freedom of information request into correspondence between Owen Patterson and bio-tech giant Syngenta. Following the new ruling Owen Patterson told Syngenta that he was ‘extremley disappointed’ and that ‘the UK had been very active in opposing it.’ This evidence of cronyism was met by outrage from environmental groups, Chief Scientist for Greenpeace, Doug Parr, said: “By not supporting the ban, environment secretary, Owen Patterson, has exposed the UK government as being in the pocket of big chemical companies and the industrial farming lobby.’

Let’s hope that the new legislation will allow bee populations to turn a corner. Interestingly, our urban bees in the UK are demonstrating how effectively the crucial pollinators can rejuvenate; The bee population of central London has more than doubled in four years, from 1,618 registered colonies in 2008 to 3,337 today, according to the London Beekeepers Association (LBKA). Lets hope that with regulation on agro-chemicals  and the spreading of agroecological practices throughout the countryside our bee populations in general can start to make that kind of recovery.