21 May 2018 Story Ecosystems

Bees could benefit from new EU rules on three insecticides

The first ever World Bee Day was celebrated on 20 May.

The European Union’s top court recently backed an almost complete EU-wide ban on the use of three insecticides, which studies have linked to declining bee populations.

Chemicals giants Bayer and Syngenta had gone to the European Court of Justice hoping to get the restrictions on neonicotinoids overturned.

The ban relates to the outdoor use of three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – and is expected to come into force by the end of the year. It will prohibit outdoor use of the chemicals (they may still be used inside greenhouses). Policy makers in other jurisdictions will doubtless be paying close attention.

Neonicotinoids (often called neonics) were introduced in the late 1980s as a safer alternative to older insecticides that are more toxic. Yet a growing body of research has pointed to environmental problems with their use.

Scientific studies have found that the chemicals can disorientate bees, harming their ability to pollinate and return to hives.

Some other factors – notably mites and fungus – have also been blamed for the widespread bee decline.

“Bees play a crucial role in increasing crop yields and promoting food security and nutrition,“ says Carla Mucavi, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Liaison Office in New York.

“Without them, we could lose a variety of food such as potatoes, pepper, coffee, pumpkins, carrots, apples, almonds, tomatoes, just to name a few. In short, without bees, FAO cannot achieve a world without hunger. World Bee Day recognizes the importance of these tiny helpers and will increase awareness of the need to protect them.”

Bees, along with many other animals, carry pollen from one flower to another and are vital for global food security.

“Pollination has a positive impact on the environment in general, helping to maintain biodiversity and the vibrant ecosystems upon which agriculture depends,” says UN Environment ecosystems expert Marieta Sakalian.

Meanwhile, a new study suggests bees and other insects may be more sensitive to climate change than plants and vertebrates.

The report titled One and a half degrees on biodiversity says “for vertebrates and plants, the number of species losing more than half their geographic range by 2100 is halved when warming is limited to 1.5°C, compared with projected losses at 2°C. But for insects, the number is reduced by two-thirds.”

For further information: Mareita.Sakalian[at]un.org