Bees pollinate a third of our food supply and over 90% of all wild plants, so they are critical for global food production. This means that every third spoonful of food in the world depends on them.
They are also known for producing high-quality food and products that are commonly used in healthcare and other sectors. Therefore, the decline in the population of these hard-working insects is an alarming concern.
In 2018, France decided to place a strict ban on all neonicotinoid insecticides used on farms to repel bugs, due to the dramatic decline in bee populations.
These insecticides were created in the 1990s, as a safe alternative to toxic insecticides that harmed both, animals and humans. They have been a popular way to protect flowering trees and other crops, as they are relatively low-risk for non-target organisms and attack the central nervous system of insects.
Yet, researchers have recently pointed out that these insecticides are the main culprit for a phenomenon known as “Colony Collapse Disorder” in bee colonies worldwide, that killed large numbers of bees.
Moreover, being highly soluble in water, neonicotinoids might endanger the health of aquatic animals when they get into bodies of water.
Due to these concerns, the EU banned three of these insecticides, clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam, but France went further and banned the remaining two as well, thiacloprid and acetamiprid.
The chemicals mustn’t be used in outdoor crop fields and greenhouses as of December 19, 2018.
Colony collapse disorder causes the disappearance of most of the worker bees, so the queen and a handful of nurses are left to take care of the immature bees.
While there were numerous theories about its exact cause, many researchers now maintain that it is a result of the use of neonicotinoids.
These chemicals imitate the structure of nicotine, and recent studies indicate that they can be addictive to bees, causing low sperm count in the male bees, reduced reproduction rates, memory loss, and poor homing skills among the worker bees, so bees leave their hives and forget their way back.
All these adverse effects accumulate and lead to the total collapse of colonies and subsequent mortality of the insects.
Therefore, millions of environmentalists and bee farmers were pleased by the ban. Bee farmers also suggest extending the ban to include several other insecticides and chemical compounds.
Fabien Van Hoecke, a beekeeper in Saint-Aloué in Brittany, who lost 86 percent of his bees over the winter, said that “there are pesticides all over the place” so even though the ban was “a good thing, it won’t save us”, adding that the banned chemicals will be soon “replaced by others”.
It was announced that in many cases, neonicotinoids can be replaced with alternative solutions, including bio-control products. According to a report by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (Anses), there is at least one alternative for almost all neonicotinoid uses.
The French government stated that it will help farmers in the transition.
Yet, farmers that grow crops attacked by bees insist that these negative effects of neonicotinoids on bees are not backed up by a sufficient number of studies, and maintain that they are not left without any means to defend their crops.
The largest farming union of the country, Fédération Nationale des Syndicats D’exploitants Agricoles (FNSEA), claims that the move will cause farmers to face a “dramatic technical dead-end”, and they would be disadvantaged in the global markets as the ban would “exacerbate unfair competition with European and non-European producers.”