lundi 28 mars 2016

73- Save the bees without cutting heads


On March 18, the French members of parliament voted the ban of all insecticides from the family of neonicotinoids, effective in September 2018.
The parliament decided to cut a head to show it to the angry people. A symbol. By this way, the parliament show it is listening to the people and act ... even in spite of common sense.

The execution of Louis XVI, a symbol more than a necessity.

It is still interesting to note that this text was adopted by 51.7% of the vote, so a very small majority of voters. It is especially interesting that the voters were 58 present for 577 members in the French National Assembly!!!
It's just a shame, a denial of democracy. How can a text of law be adopted with only 5.2% of favorable vote?
They laugh at the people!!!
A law, whose consequences could be severe, is adopted because ladies and gentlemen members of the parliament wanted to advance a few hours their Easter holidays. Get serious, please. Why do you believe you are elected? To be absent from Parliament? You are the people's representatives, and it is your duty to be present. This is just a little more abuse of power.
Let's just hope that the Senate, which has yet to ratify the text, will look a little more about the problem, and about the future of agriculture.

But that is another question.
Let us bend thus a little over the problem of those unfortunate bees, objects of all economic, political and ideological greed.
I've already talked about it last year, in an article entitled "Save the Bees"

Forum Phyto, a site which I have already mentioned and which you can access directly from this blog, recently published an article on the subject, entitled "In Canada, free seeds to bring back the bees'
It refers to a very interesting conference of a large bee specialist, Maria Spivak. It lasts 15 minutes, in English. I urge you to listen. I don't agree with everything she says, but the consistency of her speech and the passion she puts into it deserve respect.
Go ahead, and meet me afterwards.

So, what should we remember?
Several key points on the multiple causes of mortality of bees.

The first point is the change in cropping patterns after the second world war. Crop rotations had, among others, the aim to integrate legumes, plants that have the ability to fix nitrogen from the air, so to enrich the soil when buried them as preparation for the next crop. The massive use of nitrogen fertilizers has eliminated that need, and almost caused the disappearance, at least partial, of this rotation, although other benefits it brought, especially the presence of flowers, so a large tank for food for bees.

Second, the widespread use of herbicides to improve production, and the removal of vegetal soil cover, impoverishing the biodiversity, aggravated the situation of lack of flowers.

The combination of these two problems caused the formation of agricultural food deserts, where bees can't survive, because they are not able to feed from spring to the arrival of winter. Some very large areas of the world are affected by this "food desertification", for example in major grain producing areas.

Yet many agricultural crops need bees. Current practices tend to travel beehives from one region to another to pollinate crops. Many beekeepers are even specialized in pollination, because it is more cost effective than honey.
Indeed, a point Maria Spivak does not talk about, is the low profitability of honey production. Yet it is important to talk about, because it is one of the causes of the decrease in the number of beehives. Less beekeepers, less beehives. And a lot of remaining beekeepers live from pollination, honey constituting only a supplement to their income.
And to pollinate, it's necessary to move beehives from one plot to another, from one farm to another, or from one region to another. A single beehive can thus make 3 or 4 pollinations a year, with trips there and back each time. But each successive transport is traumatic and causes disorientation and significant losses of bees.

Insecticides are one of the causes of the bee decline problem, obviously. No one denies this, and farmers are the first to be concerned, after beekeepers, of course. Neonicotinoids have a peculiarity, they are systemic, meaning they are absorbed by the plant and circulate by sap. As such, they present a specific danger: they can actually, if the conditions of use are not appropriate, be found in the nectar. Now these products even in very small quantities, have the property to reduce the ability of bees to orientate, so to go back to the beehive.
But we must relativize Maria Spivak speech. The use of pesticides is not responding to the need to fight against pests, weeds and diseases that would not have existed without intensive agriculture. This is only partially true. The real reason is the need to produce more per hectare, to deal with several evolutions: the considerably greater need of food because of the exponential increase in population, and the stagnant or declining food prices (at least at farmer's level), which obliges farmers to produce more to compensate for the drop in income.

The coating of seeds, which she speaks about, had an enormous interest: the insecticide diffusing into the plant, its internal action avoids the use of the same insecticide or other one, potentially more dangerous, to infinitely higher doses and by aerial spraying, so with the risk of more significant side effects, including on bees.
But this method is now prohibited and bee decline of bees has not been controlled so far...

Another key point in the bee decline phenomenon, is the health problem of beehives, particularly with varroa attacks, a parasitic mite, whose fight is difficult, but made possible especially by another synthetic insecticide, called tau-fluvalinate. But we must also reckon with the bacteria of American foulbrood and European foulbrood, also with many viruses, and more recently the extension of its terrible predator, the Asian hornet.

Next, and maybe especially, monoculture, largely used in agriculture in some areas, and the progression of urbanization, have significantly reduced food options of beehives. Bees are animals that must feed daily (really?). So they need to find flowers to forage throughout their period of activity.
Poverty of biodiversity in some cultivated areas, around cities, on the edge of roads or railways, further increases food desert effect.
For a time, in France, the state administration was helping farmers who chose to sow flowery fallow. The rotation problems in crops, and especially the end of compulsory fallow, so subsidized, made almost disappear this practice, yet so beneficial for beehives.

I would add one more point, perhaps not sufficiently highlighted, yet very serious, and involving beekeepers themselves: the origin of bees. In many cases, queens are imported to increase the productive capacity of the beehives. Their origin may be distant, sometimes even from the southern hemisphere. But their adaptation to their new environment and climate, can be difficult, especially if in addition there is also a change of season, due to the change of hemisphere. You can read the article in the Huffington Post (French edition) entitled "Bees victims of pesticides? It's not so simple ... “   and the book it speaks of,  written by the  scientific journalist Vincent Tardieu, "the strange silence of bees" in which all causes are discussed

Finally, if we take together, Maria Spivak conference, Vincent Tardieu's work, and many studies from all sources published on this subject, we realize that the problem is extremely complex, and that the dominant point is not, as some would lead us to believe, an ideal culprit and so easy to condemn like a group of insecticides.

In short, the causes are many. French members of the parliament have chosen, by their vote or by their absence, to yield to the dictates of Environmental lobbies, whose objectives are at least dubious, and pressure tactics even more doubtful. Yet nothing new has been published on the subject, no recent studies or expertise has further involved pesticides, nothing to corroborate the thesis that this ban can solve in any way the bee decline problem. But in France, we are in pre-election period, and you have to go fishing for votes, satisfy the little people, even if the consequences are serious.

But this ban will have consequences, do not doubt about it, but probably not those expected. Will crop problems disappear with this ban?
What do you think farmers will do to continue to produce and make their work profitable?
They shall spray even more, since products that allowed them to reduce sprayings in recent years, will now be banned. Because the arrival of neonicotinoids, in the early 90's, allowed a marked reduction in quantities of insecticides applied per hectare. And they shall spray with products much less sneaky, it's true, products that kill bees clearly, very clearly, in a few minutes, as in the good old days...
Because these products have another feature, their mode of action, which allows the farmer, when the problems are serious, to alternate product families and especially modes of action, so as to avoid the risk of resistant strains of parasites. Another family less, after organochlorine, carbamates, organophosphorus compounds, among others.
Because one of the basic principles of integrated production, or Integrated Pest Management, is precisely the alternation of modes of action, so as to reduce the one hand the risk of resistance, and secondly the impact, not of the spraying itself, but of the whole applications that could be achieved during a year.
A family less is a little more environmental burden of what remains. And what is remaining, anyway? Some new products, and especially the synthetic pyrethroids, a group of molecules with powerful shock effect, very versatile, and extremely toxic to aquatic life.
Hello bees, bye bye fishes. That is consistent environmentalism!!!

Would it not be more reasonable to control the proper use of what is existing? Because neonicotinoids, if properly used, do not present a serious problem. It's just necessary to ensure that the application periods not allow these products to be in the nectar.
For example, in orchards I care, the main farm is 300 hectares, with only peach trees, except 15 hectares of plum. These plum trees need beehives for pollination. All orchards usually receive two neonicotinoid applications per year, sometimes more, case by case. Watch these two videos of beehives this spring, after 3 weeks of presence in plum.

And imagine that the beekeeper asked us to host his beehives in our farm throughout the year, something we do for over 10 years. In fact, the blooming is over, and the beehives are actually on the farm.
So who is intoxicating who?
The farmer with pesticides?
Or rather environmentalist lobbies with the pollution of public debate?

In Canada, the brand of cereals Cheerios, has launched a very interesting marketing operation, to the extent that it will help make the public aware, firstly of the importance of this issue, and secondly that everyone can participate from his garden or balcony, in safeguarding bees by planting flowers. Flowers from spring to fall, flowers diverse, varied, enabling bees to feed throughout their period of activity.

So yes, I can confirm, in this 300-hectare farm, there is something special, a large fringe of wild plants, which isolates the farm from the river that goes along it on more than 5 kilometers, where vegetation is free, and where biodiversity is high, allowing bees to eat all year long.

Let's stop talking nonsense, and stop banning.
It must be regulated, controlled, to ensure the proper use of available products.
It is especially necessary to force, by all possible means (aid, assistance, penalties), the installation of many biodiversity areas. For this, we must educate, encourage, help, support all the positive initiatives but also penalize if necessary.
And you will see how everything will change, without need once again to attack agriculture.

But it is easier, cheaper, and more electorally profitable to ban.
It's pathetic and ridiculous. French parliamentarians have chosen the worst solution. They will cause a worsening of the environmental situation of agricultural areas, and won't solve anything for bees.

In fact, everyone can help in the rescue of bees. You can sow in your garden, on your balcony, in flowerpots, on roadsides, everywhere, mixtures of flowers, those found for flowery fallows or flower garden all summer. These small individual contributions are easy, cheap and very important, because they are very effective.

Without that, despite all pesticide bans, bees will continue to die of hunger.

The day that members of parliament will understand that it is more efficient (but more difficult) to encourage than to ban, while civil society is on the brink of a profound change.
But it's so much easier to have a scapegoat, a whipping boy, an ideal culprit whose guillotined head can be shown to the little people, well-handled and eager for revenge.

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