For years researchers and beekeepers alike have been trying to make sense of a phenomenon of massive bee die-offs otherwise known as “colony collapse disorder” that has been occurring on a world-wide scale. Many hypothesis have been given as the reason; a fungal disease, a virus, some new and unknown pathogen, and of course, pesticides.
The pesticide-as-the-reason argument gained much traction in March 2012 when two research teams both suggested that bees that consumed a form of pesticide called a neonicotinoid suffered massive side-effects. Among the studies’ results were that bee colonies that came into contact with neonicotinoids saw an 85% drop in their queen bee populations and a 100% increase in “lost” bees that disappeared while foraging.
In lieu of these newfound warning signs, the European Union has decided to ban three such neonicotinoid pesticides, imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, from use on corn, oil seed rape, sunflowers and a myriad of other crops for a period of two years. Leading the way on the proposal were France and the Netherlands, which have both experienced sharp declines in their own bee populations in previous years, and Avaaz, an anti-pesticide interest group, which has gathered over 2.5 million signatures in favor of the ban. “This if the first time that the EU has recognized that the demise of bees has a perpetrator: pesticides,” said Luis Morago of Avaaz, who also said the decision could be “a tipping point in the battle to stop the chemical armageddon for bees.”
However, as is the case with all controversial topics, not everyone agrees that the ban was necessary. Germany, the home of the pesticide-producing giant Bayer, and the UK both do not fully support the ban and abstained from voting in a March referendum that proved inconclusive based on EU voting laws – the 13 yeas, 9 neas and 5 abstentions were not enough to show a clear majority. It was this lack of a majority that allowed a panel of EU-sponsored environmental experts to make the decision to ban the pesticides, following closed door talks that began on April 29.
The ban will, by estimates, cause the loss of 50,000 jobs and 17 billion dollars over its two-year life span, but experts thought that the risk of further bee population loss merited the ban. The hope is that bee populations will rise in the two-year time frame in which the pesticides will be banned, thus giving credence to the theory that pesticides are, in fact, the cause behind the death of so many bees.