Understanding the threats to our bee population

Threats to our bee populations – What does the research say?

Outside of Australia there are some areas of the world where bee populations are declining due mainly to diseases, Varroa mite and nosemosis infestation, general mismanagement , Queen weakness and starvation.

Yates aims to encourage the responsible use of domestic pesticides containing neonicotinoids by ensuring consumers are properly informed of the correct way to use them. Yates labels provide clear instructions about how to safely use our products and minimise risks to bees.

What’s happening in Australia?

Neonicotinoids have been used in Australia for more than 20 years and Australia continues to have one of the healthiest bee populations in the world. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has reviewed research and information gathered from around world over the past few decades and in early 2014 concluded that:

“It’s clear that it’s not possible to attribute bee population declines in some parts of the world to the introduction of the neonicotinoid insecticides.”

The report concludes that overall, the introduction of neonicotinoids has probably reduced risks to the environment from the application of insecticides. The research suggests that, in Australia, the use of insecticides is not highly significant in changing bee populations, unless used incorrectly. Yates therefore actively promotes the safe use of these products, particularly when bees are present.

The report Neonicotinoids and the health of honey bees in Australia is available on the APVMA website

In April 2014, Plant Health Australia (PHA), the not-for-profit coordinators of the plant biosecurity partnership in Australia, brought together 90 representatives from government agencies, the honey bee industry, crop industries that rely on honey bees for pollination, and researchers, to examine information gathered globally on the effects of neonicotinoids on insect pollinators.

Rod Turner, PHA’s General Manager for Risk Management, said that the meeting was a positive step towards better understanding how honey bee activities and chemical control of insect pests can occur side-by-side, with correct use and application.

“It’s good news that Australian farmers can use neonicotinoid pesticides when they need to control pests affecting crops. It was important to sit down with all affected parties and assess the scientific evidence.

“Australia has one of the healthiest bee populations in the world, and the research indicates that with sensible measures we will be able to keep them healthy and benefit from their honey making and pollination services,” Mr Turner said.

What’s happening in other regions?

On the 29th April 2013 the European Commission(EC), in the absence of a majority vote by European member states, moved to suspend for two years (from 1 December 2013) the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on flowering crops such as corn, canola, sunflowers and cotton. The suspension would not apply to crops that are not attractive to bees or to winter cereals.

The Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) objected to the suspension. Following the EC decision, the relevant US regulators – the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) – conducted their own reviews and saw no cause to follow the EU temporary ban.

Additionally, the APVMA in Australia conducted its own scientific review and concluded there was no evidence to support similar restrictions on use of neonicotinoids in Australia (as outlined above).

Research into the incidence and causes of bee colony collapse in some regions outside of Australia

It is our understanding that the scientific facts that lay behind the positions adopted by DEFRA, USDA, USEPA and APVMA included:

• Reports of bee disappearance have been regional in nature and not necessarily representative of global trends. Declines in stocks of domesticated honey bees in Western Europe and the USA over the 20th century have been more than offset by strong increases in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. These regional declines appear to have stabilised. The number of managed honeybee hives worldwide is estimated to have increased by about 45% in the past five decades.

• Research is increasingly suggesting there is a multiple of factors causing of bee population decline, with one of the biggest culprits likely to be the parasitic blood-sucking Varroa mite. Other drivers are likely to be colony management issues, viruses (including tobacco spot ring virus), fungal & bacterial diseases, the small hive beetle, poor nutrition, restricted genetic diversity and habitat loss. The potential role of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, is not considered to be significant, provided they are correctly applied. The role of those used domestically has been all but discounted.

• The introduction of neonicotinoid insecticides has brought a number of important benefits, not least that they are considerably less toxic to humans (and other mammals) than the mass spraying of organophosphorus and carbamate pesticides, which they have largely replaced. These older chemicals are acknowledged to be harmful to bee populations.

• None of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) studies that informed the EC’s moratorium were conclusive and the way some of this research was conducted raised serious questions about how the results could be translated to the real world. Flaws in the research included that bees were often exposed to doses of neonicotinoids many times higher than they would encounter in a field situation.