Most of the food served on our tables greatly depends on insects such as bees and their crucial pollinating role in agriculture, but the use of pesticides is increasingly placing the future of bees and our farming at risk.
A scientific review of pollinators and agriculture in Europe released by Greenpeace today highlights the ecological and economic importance of healthy bee populations.
The study stresses the urgent need to ban bee-harming pesticides. Such a ban would be a crucial first step towards protecting bee colonies and safeguarding the process of pollination from insects – instrumental to agriculture and food production in Europe.
Our report Bees in Decline shows how the global decline in bee populations can be attributed to diseases and parasites as well as climate change but, most importantly, industrial agricultural practices.
Scientific evidence highlights the deadly role of neonicotinoids, a highly toxic type of pesticide with detrimental effects to bees. Besides the acute poisoning that leads to immediate bee death, there are several other sub-lethal, low-dose effects of pesticides. These include physiological effects, disturbance to the foraging pattern, interfered feeding behaviour and neurotoxic impacts on learning processes.
Additionally, the ability of bees to resist diseases and parasites seems to be directly influenced by their exposure to neonicotinoids – with catastrophic consequences on their health and chances of survival. Since one-third of all European food is pollinated by insects, a collapse in bee populations would put agriculture at risk, with dire consequences for European food security.
The negative impacts of bee-killing pesticides far exceed any presumed benefits. Our bees and wild pollinators are too precious to risk losing them. EU member states simply cannot wait any longer and must immediately ban such pesticides.
Greenpeace has identified seven priority bee-killer pesticides that should be banned due to their extremely high toxicity, sub-lethal and/or systemic effects on bees. The list includes Bayer’s imidacloprid and clothianidin, Syngenta’s thiamethoxam, BASF’s fipronil, and clorpyriphos, cypermethrin and deltamethrin produced by a range of other agrochemical companies that earn titanic profits from its widespread application in agriculture.
The publication of our report Bees in Decline marks the launch of a Europe-wide Greenpeace campaign to save the bees and promote ecological farming, as a more sustainable and effective approach to agriculture.
Greenpeace is urging policymakers across Europe to do the following:
- support the ban on the three bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides, as proposed on March 15 by the European Commission;
- endorse ambitious Europe-wide plans to ban all pesticides that are harmful to bees and other vital pollinators;
- shift funding from chemical intensive agriculture to ecological farming solutions.
Ecological farming produces food without the use of insect-harming chemicals and relies on non-polluting and long-term pest protection techniques.
The increase of biodiversity, the attraction of beneficial insects, crop rotation, mixed farming and the implementation of 'low input' technologies available locally are all ecological farming applications that help make crops less vulnerable to pest invasion.
This alternative approach to agriculture represents the only long-term solution to save the bees and ensure food security in Europe.
Matthias Wüthrich, is Greenpeace Ecological Farming campaigner and European bees project leader at Greenpeace Switzerland