3 Dec 2008

Plight of bees threatens food production

Regular blog readers will know I have taken a keen interest in bees - this summer for example I met Bob Usher and helped him organise his tour of the country to seek support for his possible solution to the plight that bees are currently facing.

The situation is getting worse - immediate action is even more required to tackle the drastic decline in bee colonies. Last month there was news we face no english honey on the shelves by December - see here. As I have noted before the decline in the number of bees poses a threat not just to honey production, but to the pollination of plants and hence to food production, both in London and around the world.

At the annual Earthwatch debate, five eminent scientists declared bees to be the most invaluable species on the planet. Yet, earlier this year, the London Beekeepers Association reported that the bee population in London had fallen by around half in the last two years. A worrying statistic since three quarters of food production is dependent on bees and 84% of vegetables grown in Europe depend on pollination. Petition to sign here.

The good news is that the European Parliament has now adopted a resolution pressing the Commission to invest in research to find the causes of the decline and to aid the creation of uncultivated ecological recovery zones for bees. Jean Lambert Green MEP said: "The decline in the bee population is of serious concern to bee-keepers and farmers, but also to allotment holders and gardeners, who rely on bees for pollination. Threats to bees come from a variety of sources including the use of modified and treated seed, which produce less pollen and nectar, and a reduction of agricultural set-aside land. We need urgent action at all levels to address such issues if we are going to avoid a disaster in food production in the near future."

Last month campaigners handed in the petition we have been signing locally to 10 Downing Street after marching from Parliament to highlight the 2 billion bees that have gone missing - one in three colonies have died since last year - see more re the demo here.

The 140,000-strong petition called on the government to increase the paltry £200,000 sum that is spent each year on bee health research, to £1.6 million for the next 5 years. This would equate to less than 1 per cent of the £825 million added value provided to the agriculture economy by pollination by bees over the same period. Beekeepers fear that there is nothing to prevent a repeated loss of two billion bees this winter, leading to another spring in which there will be a reduction in these vital pollinators. As a result of uncontrolled decease, there are very few wild honey bees left. Defra spent £364,000 on taxis last year. This should be much more a priority for Defra!

Tim Lovett, President of the BBKA, is quoted saying: “Bees are probably one of the most economically useful creatures on earth, pollinating a third of all we eat. They provide more than 50% of pollination of wild plants on which birds and mammals depend. “We must identify what is killing them, and that means research.”

The MEPs are also calling for:

- investment in research into the parasites and diseases, which are decimating the bee population, as well as other potential causes such as erosion of genetic diversity and cultivation of genetically modified crops.

- research to establish whether there is a link between the use of pesticides, such as thiamethoxam, imidacloprid, clothianidin and fipronil, and bee mortality.

- analysis of imported honey to detect the presence of American foulbrood bacteria, which is known to effect honey bees.

- a financial aid mechanism for beekeepers in difficulty, and "immediate support" from Member States for the beekeeping sector.

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