Honey Honey Bee

Three years ago I wrote about bees vanishing from the world – a process that started in 2006. The idea of extinction being so close – the vanishing of bees means the end of the pollination of most plants – is so horrific, that most governments, like ours with its useless animal husbandry and agriculture ministry , have refused to even acknowledge this catastrophe.


Now, USA’s Department of Agriculture scientists have announced that pesticides, fungicides and malnutrition are the official causes. The USA lost 33% of its bee colonies just last year alone. “We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we don’t have enough bees in this country to meet pollination demands,” said entomologist Dennis vanEngelstorp of the University of Maryland, who led the survey documenting the declines. This means the nation’s food security is at severe risk.


The honeybee shortage came to a head in March this year in California, when there were barely enough bees to pollinate the almond crop. Who knows what will happen next year – but, in every likelihood, almonds might just disappear. Along with everything else. Every third food you consume has been directly or indirectly pollinated by bees.


The bees are dying in Europe as well. And in Asia. India has barely any left. Mangoes, apples, bananas, pomegranates, baingan, bhindi… say goodbye to all your fruit and vegetables. No, you will not be able to live on cereals and meat because grain is also pollinated by bees and to create one kilo of meat , the animal has to feed on 11 kilos of greens – which are pollinated by bees.


The main culprits are a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. These were developed in the 1990s, rushed to market by multinational companies, bought eagerly by third world politicians and bureaucrats with minimal and misleading studies of potential harm, and now have the world’s most-used pesticides. The pesticide, which was supposed to be used to increase the crops and alleviate hunger, is now destroying the world. And still governments will not ban them.


Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides chemically related to nicotine. Developed in the 1980s by Shell and the 1990s by Bayer. Imidacloprid is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world – one quarter of all global insecticide sales-, applied to soil, seed, timber, cereals, cotton, grain, legumes, potatoes, rice, turf and vegetables. It is followed closely by Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam, invented in 2000. Currently, all corn in the USA is treated with one of these two insecticides, as is soyabean. Clothianidin is one of the most toxic substances known for honey bees.


Within 10 years the roof is caving in on the world. In July 2010, a Dutch toxicologist authored and published a book called "A Disaster in the Making" exploring the impact of neonicotinoids on the immune system of bees. In 2009 a documentary “Vanishing of the Bees” suggested neonicotinoid pesticides as the culprit. In 2012, several peer-reviewed independent studies were published showing that neonicotinoids were killing the bees. Their review concluded, "A high acute risk to honey bees was identified from exposure via dust drift for the seed treatment uses in maize, oilseed rape and cereals. A high acute risk was also identified from exposure via residues in nectar and/or pollen." A two-year study published in 2012 showed the presence of two neonicotinoid insecticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, in bees found dead in and around hives situated near agricultural fields. Other bees at the hives exhibited tremors, uncoordinated movement and convulsions, all signs of insecticide poisoning. The insecticides were also consistently found at low levels in soil — up to two years after treated seed was planted — on nearby wild flowers and in corn pollen gathered by the bees.


Researchers found 121 different pesticides in honeybee hives. On average, each hive contained between 6 - 36.


In January 2013, the European Food Safety Authority stated that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bees, and that the industry-sponsored science upon which regulatory agencies' claims of safety relied on may have been severely flawed. This is not the first time that multinationals have lied in order to get their products into the market – the tobacco industry has done it for years. The UK Parliament has asked manufacturer Bayer Cropscience to explain the discrepancies in the evidences they had submitted about the safety of these pesticides. In March 2013, the US government Environmental Protection Agency was sued by a coalition of beekeepers and sustainable agriculture lobbies who accused the agency of performing inadequate toxicity evaluations and allowing registration of the pesticides on insufficient industry studies. In March 2013, the American Bird Conservancy published a review of 200 studies on neonicotinoids including secret industry research obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act and called for a ban on neonicotinoidse because of their toxicity to birds, aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife.


On April 29, 2013, the European Union passed a two-year ban on neonicotinoid insecticides, Temporary suspensions had previously been enacted in France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland based on studies showing that bee losses were correlated with the application of seeds treated with these compounds; Italy also based its decision on the known acute toxicity of these compounds to pollinators.


The US EPA is now reviewing the safety of clothianidin, thiamethoxam and Imidacloprid and other neonicotinoids Acetamiprid, Dinotefuran, Nitenpyram, Thiacloprid. But the results will be out in 2017 or after – probably too late for the bees and us. Even if a ban were to come in, it takes 4 years for these pesticides to degrade. And if they have got into the ground water, then a ban is irrelevant.


Predictably, pesticide companies have fought the restrictions, arguing that neonicotinoids are unfairly blamed. Bayer says the criticisms lack solid evidence. “This report relies on theoretical calculations and exposure estimates that differ from accepted risk assessment methodologies, while disregarding relevant data that are at odds with its claims,” the company said in a statement.


We will have to rethink our policy on pesticides very quickly. The honeybee catastrophe is not a stand alone. Other pollinator species such as butterflies, birds and insects will disappear, long before their absence is noticed. The honeybees are simply the canary in the mine.

Researchers have found widespread evidence of neonicotinoids spreading beyond their crop targets. Seeds used to grow crops like corn, sunflowers and canola are routinely coated in neonicotinoids, which then spread through plants as they grow. Many species of birds eat seeds. As little as 15-200 milligrams per kilo of bodyweight or just a few seeds coated with imidacloprid can kill any birds.


Chronic toxicity doesn’t kill animals overnight, but over time causes health, reproductive and behavioural problems. Studies conducted on rats suggest that neonicotinoids may adversely affect the human developing brain.


Most entomologists and pest management professionals have been saying for years that there is no pest management justification for using these insecticides on virtually every crop. Yet, the Indian government continues to push these world killers onto the farmers. Wake up your Member of Parliament now, before it is too late.


Maneka Sanjay Gandhi


Pl. add: To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*