Over the last few years research has increasingly shown a link between the use of neonicotinoid-containing pesticides and a decline in bee populations.
Article from 2018 annual report
Through meetings with a variety of stakeholders, the Council on Ethics is seeking to understand and address this challenge to the world’s most important pollinators.
Pollination is an important ecosystem service necessary for reproduction of about 35 per cent of global crop products. In the US, honey bee pollination is responsible for some 80 per cent of crop pollination and is estimated to contribute USD 20 billion to the US economy.
Research links pesticide to dying bees
Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticide, effectively neurotoxins, which allegedly act upon the central nervous system of bees, causing nervous stimulation, disorientation and blocked receptors. The effects are irreversible and affects the behavior of the bee, such as foraging and navigation, but can also cause death.
Bayer and Syngenta are two of the major manufacturers of neonicotinoid products. In September 2018, reports came of new studies finding that glyphosate-containing pesticides, such as Bayer’s product Roundup, adversely affects the beneficial bacteria in the gut of bees, through an enzyme that is specifically targeted by glyphosate. The effect is that the bee larvae grow more slowly and often worker bees die when subsequently exposed to common bacteria.
The Council discussed the topic with Bayer in August 2018. The company questions the science behind research on bee colony declines, stating that although bee colony decline is documented, the quantity of bees is not declining. It also argues that colony decline is primarily due to the introduction of the Varroa mite into Europe where the bees had no natural immunity to withstand the mite. The Varroa mite spreads deformed wing virus into the bees. Any significant infestation can indeed cause the death of a colony.
Collaboration for guidance on practical measures
In 2019, further meetings are planned with two opponents to the use of neonicotinoid-containing pesticides namely The Soil Association in the UK and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IBPES). The Council seeks to understand the science behind the research and the level of scientific review as well as request guidance on the practical measures that could be taken by the manufacturers.
It should be noted that the insecticides and pesticides in focus make up a substantial proportion of the market and have arguably made significant benefits to the level of food productivity globally. Following the above meetings, the Council shall seek a further meeting with Bayer to discuss the allegation that, now, two of its products are potentially adversely affecting the world’s most important pollinator.