dimanche 21 juin 2015

45- Save the bees

David against Goliath?

A French photographer Marie Lasource, from Marseille, I'm following on Facebook, has released a series of beautiful pictures on bees. I invite you to see them on the following link:

It gives me the opportunity to address the subject of bees, which I have not yet spoken.

As an illustration of the article I will post a picture I made this spring. It is not a professional quality photo, but I like it.

The controversy about the effects of insecticides on bees swells day by day worldwide.
The subject has been widely taken up and over-used by various environmental lobbies, with the primary purpose to suppress an entire family of insecticides, neonicotinoids or neonics, widely used in world agriculture.
Yet the scientific evidence put forward are largely questionable. Even the own world scientific community agrees that the problem is extremely complex.
Not being a scientist myself, I will not get into that debate.

We must first point out that the decline of bees is a very worrying phenomenon, but the actual severity is relative, since the overall population of bees is not in a so bad situation as some would have us believe. The graphic below, derived from http://pflanzenschuetzer.ch/mit-den-honigbienen-geht-es-aufwaerts/?lang=fr
and from FAO data shows that bee colonies and honey production (proving that bee colonies are active) follow a positive trend in progression.
What we observe in general, are sudden local aggravations, with sometimes tragic deaths, but more often punctual.
The Epilobee study in Europe shows significant variations in mortality colonies from one year to another (http://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/live_animals/bees/study_on_mortality/index_en.htm) .
The trend over the long term still remains positive.
It is therefore important to relativize the severity of the problem, even if we have to consider it very seriously. Today, according to FAO and Epilobee, there is no reason to fear the disappearance of bees.

I want to place me again on the side of the farmer.
In this debate, as in many others, farmers are believed to defend these insecticides in an essentially productivist goal.
Yet there is a very contradictory point in the debate in question.
One of the arguments put forward is that the disappearance of bees would cause the disappearance of many plant foods whose production would be practically annihilated.
The first affected by pollination problems would therefore farmers themselves, with damage far more serious than those caused by the disappearance of a family of insecticides. So they are the first after the beekeepers course, to have a vested interest in the preservation of the bees.
I am specialized in peach production, which pollinate very well without assistance, but also in plums, which hardly produces without the active participation of bees. Yet I use pesticides, even néonicotonoïdes but with infinite care, the same way I use any other pesticide, taking into account all side effects.
What must be understood is that the use of insecticides addresses a concern of another sort. This is primarily to ensure the health of plants and the quality of produced food. If pesticides are used properly, whether chemical or biological, they do not represent a danger to bees. And it is the same for neonicotinoids. They suffer from a terrible reputation with the public, mainly due to unexpected effects of seed coating. This technique, practiced in the years 1990-2000, had a serious impact on bees foraging during several weeks or several months after sowing. Once identified problems, this use was banned. But this group of insecticides remained the target of unwarranted attacks.
The debate about the effects of products on bees is far from simple. On the following link you will find (in English) an article, in fact a call to ban two biological insecticides, rotenone and azadirachtin for their serious side effects on bees and environment.
Also be aware that the simple spray of water, without any added product of any kind, in hours of bee foraging, causes the death of a large number of individuals. Bees are very fragile insects. Farmers know this and always take into account. They need bees, and they know how to preserve them.
But deleting an entire family of insecticides, will inevitably cause the overuse of the few remaining products, and in conditions that are not necessarily favorable to bees, or more generally to the environment.
The interest for a farmer to have a diversity of products and modes of action to protect crops, is primarily have the possibility to alternate families. This increases the efficiency while reducing the number of applications needed and the risk that appear resistant strains of the disease or insect to fight.
In the past fifteen years, the European Community, as I have already explained, removed about 70% of authorized pesticides. Deletions responded to several types of considerations, especially environmental risks, the ability of these molecules to degrade rapidly in air, water, soil and food, and health risks.
Currently licensed products had to pass many experimental phases to verify that they are able to be authorized. National governments remain free to be more stringent than the European regulations. In no case they can be more lax.

To be clear, we will ban neonicotinoids, but we won't solve the problem targeted. But cons, we will cause other serious problems, with consequences difficult to predict.

Indeed, bee mortality is a complex phenomenon in which it is likely that insecticides play an aggravating role, but probably not the main role.
Why else do the bees die in mountain areas where pesticides are used very little, or in some parts of Africa for example, where agriculture is very traditional with a very low use of pesticides?

The main causes are uncontrolled development of a number of health problems of bees and hives (Varroa, American foulbrood and European foulbrood bacterias, Asian hornet, more than 20 types of viruses, etc.), a worrying reduction of biodiversity in some areas, and the importation of bees from other origins, not always prepared to survive in their new living conditions (see in this respect, the recent Huffington Post article, in its French edition http://www.huffingtonpost.fr/2015/06/17/abeilles-victimes-pesticides-pas-aussi-simple_n_7604548.html# .)
Bees need flowers. Plant diversity allows them to find food throughout their period of activity. The local reduction of this diversity causes, in bee colonies, lacks during periods of time which forces them to fly even further to find flowers, and also forces the bees to start flying younger. In short, the bees are hungry, and one solution is to feed the hives. See the following article in French. http://www.forumphyto.fr/2014/09/05/pour-la-sante-des-abeilles-une-seule-priorite-les-nourrir/
All this causes a depletion of the worker bees and weakening of hives, which makes them more susceptible to attacks of pests and combined side effects of pesticides and pollution.

This loss of biodiversity is very marked around cities and around the roads, railways and other public services. In regions a priori not very sensitive to this kind of phenomenon, it is also affected by climate change. It is also marked in terms of agriculture, especially through specialization of entire regions. A cereals area, for example, can seek biodiversity in maintaining or establishing forested or uncultivated areas, and fallow. A region specialized in open air fruit and vegetable crops will have little risk of biodiversity loss.

The important thing to understand is that we stigmatize a unique problem, in this case a secondary one, so that we don't act on the root causes.
Instead of deleting an entire family of helpful pesticides, I am more in favor of a revision of their conditions of use, with a strict control, so as to further reduce their impact on the environment.
In my opinion, the prohibition would be an agronomic and environmental aberration.
Fortunately, were created some multidisciplinary research organizations, as Epilobee study in Europe, to understand the phenomenon as a whole.

This prohibition, if it occurs, will make the little people happy. They will have the impression of having won a battle against political evil and the terrible farmers, probably in the pay of lobbies that seek to dominate the world, and against almighty chemical companies.
David against Goliath.

But bees will continue to die.

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