By Gabriel Tamariz.
The European Commission just decided to ban 3 insecticides that are thought to be responsible for the alarming decline of insect pollinators in the world. According to the FAO, 71 of 100 crops providing 90 percent of human food are pollinated by bees. The decision was taken the 29th of April. It implies a two-year suspension of these insecticides, which are the world´s most widely used. Primarily manufactured by Bayer and Syngenta, they are known as neonicotinoids: insect neurotoxins applied to seeds that flow through the plants´ whole system, including the pollen and nectar foraged by bees and other pollinators. According to findings published in ‘Science’ and ‘Nature’ last year, among other peer-reviewed journals, these insecticides are at least partially responsible for what is known as the ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD). They produce memory, learning, and navigating problems –which produce ‘homing failure’. This means the inability to fly back to the hive.
The global decline of insect pollinators has been documented since Rachel Carson´s famous ‘Silent Spring’ (1962), but the decline intensified drastically in the last years. The beekeeping industry is severely affected by this CCD since at least 2006. This phenomenon has been attributed to insecticides, as well as to viral pathogens, parasite mites, droughts, floods, and ploughed up habitats. Chemical herbicides are also watched by beekeepers and environmentalists. Scientific articles published since 2005 link herbicides to serious environmental pollution and human health problems. Some of them show lethal and sublethal effects on insects, similar to those produced by neonicotinoids.
The EU ban is clearly driven by the valuable role of bees in agricultural yields. However, the statement from Brussels also emphasised the need to protect a vital element of our ecosystem. The triumph is not only for the beekeepers societies and different environmental organisations backed by 2.6 million signatures collected by the AVAAZ campaign ‘EU: Ban Bee Poison, it is also another step for the protection of the Rights of Nature. But the ban is only temporary and it has been strongly disputed by the corporations that make insecticides. They claim scientific uncertainty regarding the link between insecticide use and the global bee crises.
Conflicts have arisen in countries that hold both pesticide-dependent monoculture and beekeeping. A current conflict in Mexico confronts Mayan beekeepers with Monsanto and his allies supporting the expansion of genetically modified soybean plantations. A factsheet published recently in this EJOLT webpage explains the evolution and characteristics of this conflict.