Anyone who paid attention at school to classes introducing one to the insect life around them will know that the role of a honey bee is to pollenate plants – in addition, as its name suggests – enable honey to be made. The importance of their role in horticulture, viticulture and so forth is difficult to overestimate. But the recent decision by European Union nations to delay a decision on the banning of pesticides that have been linked to the deaths of large bee populations in Europe and elsewhere, suggests to me that it is quite possible to underestimate the importance.
One might wonder what this has to do with New Zealand. The company that created two of the pesticides in question is Bayer, a large German chemical and pharmaceutical company Two of the pesticides that are the subject of a potential ban in Europe because of their links to the large scale death of bees, are also used in New Zealand. New Zealand viticulture and horticulture have already suffered significantly from the damage caused by the varroa bee mite, a tiny white coloured pest that arrived in or about 2000 and was the cause of significant angst at the potential cost to these industries. The two pesticides in question that are being used in New Zealand are imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. A third pesticide which is known as clothianindin and is also available in New Zealand. These are all of the neonicotinoid variety. It is not the first time that the pesticides have raised questions. Clothianindin and Imidacloprid were the subject of concerns raised in 2009 about the impact of pesticides on bees after massive numbers of bees died in the German spring of 2008 due to their usage.
So what is New Zealand going to do about the threat to New Zealand bee populations? Being a much smaller country than Germany, and still very heavily reliant on viticulture, agriculture and horticulture for export products, New Zealand does not have the luxury of waiting for the European Union to reach a decision, which may at the end of the day not be in favour of protecting bees. Having already suffered significant damage from the varroa bee mite, which is now wide spread on the New Zealand mainland, any steps that actively seek to reduce the danger to bee populations should definitely be encouraged. Questions need to be asked, such as:
- What are the alternative’s in terms of pesticides to these agents?
- Can changes in standard practises in the affected industries help reduce the exposure of bee’s to these agents?
- Do the Ministers for Agriculture and Environment need to undertake a risk assessment of pesticide impact on New Zealand bee’s with the help of the Environmental Risk Management Authority?
Could New Zealand undertake research into the effects of pesticides on bees and use the results of the research to develop alternatives to the neonicotinoid varieties that are currently in use? All of these questions need answers in the relatively near future, and New Zealand must be prepared to act independently of Europe if research conclusively shows these pesticides pose a genuine threat here.