Today the EU voted to ban a type of pesticide called neonicotinoids across member states for a period of two years. Environmentalists are hoping that this will bring about a change in the fortune of bees whose numbers have been decreasing over recent years.
Bees may seem like a funny thing to care so much about, in fact we’re always hearing about the plight of bees. They’re not cute, they’re not cuddly, but they are incredibly useful and you’ll miss them when they’re gone, and I mean really really miss them, as pretty much all of our food either directly or indirectly relies on bees as bees are what’s known as cross pollinators. What this means is that when bees fly into a flower they pick up pollen on their skin and when they fly into the next flower, they take this pollen with them and leave some of it. This “Cross pollination” means that you get fertilisation of plants meaning that the plants produce seeds, and that the genetic information contained within these seeds is varied (plants are similar to animals in that they need to “breed” with individuals that are not closely related to them).
So this is why we need to protect bees, because without them we would have to cross pollinate all plants by hand and producing food would become much much harder and much much more expensive. This is the problem, when farmers use pesticides to control pests which will eat their crop, sometimes these pesticides will kill friendly animals that we want to encourage. What makes neonicotinoids especially dangerous for bees is that it is used as a seed preparation, which means that seeds are treated with it, and then when these seeds grow into plants the poison stays inside the plant. This means that any crops grown from these seeds will always kill bees. Always. Whether there is a problem with pests or not.
There is more research to be done into the effects of neonicotinoids, as critics of the ban point out, but here at the blog we’d rather those experiments were done in a laboratory than by experimenting with our bees and our future in the outside world (once they’re gone, they’re gone) so we are glad to hear about the ban. We must however be careful not to see the ban as a cure-all for our striped friends, this one type of insecticide is not the only thing that are causing bees to decline in numbers, and two years is not likely to be long enough to fully remove neonicotinoids from the ecosystem. However, it shows the governments are starting to listen and frankly, as neonicotinoids are considered by many to be be a major factor in bee deaths, we’re pleased.
Free images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Blog post by Linda Seward of Seward Technical Writing, providers of original science content.