While a European ban on one of their pesticides becomes more likely, manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer announced a plan to support bee health and conduct more research in an effort to avert the ban. The timing might not be the best as two new research papers delivered the most detailed results yet demonstrating the negative effects of neonicotinoids on honeybees.
Published in two journals, Nature Communications and the Journal of Experimental Biology, the latest findings examined two common pesticides during the course of their studies. The first was neonicotinoid, which is used to control pests on oil seed rape and other crops and is now threatened by an EU wide moratorium. The second was coumaphos, which is used to kill the Varroa mite, a parasite that attacks (possibly already weakened) honeybee colonies.
In order to see the full effect of the pesticides, the researchers applied them directly to the brains of pollinators. Surprisingly, they found that the chemicals caused a loss of brain activity--essentially causing bees to be unable to make sense of their surroundings. In addition, they found that when used together, the effects of the pesticides were additive; in other words, the effect was greater when both were present.
These results just add fuel to the arguments of the most outspoken group that demands a ban of pesticides, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), a watchdog group established in 2002 after a series of food crises in the late 1990s.
Their campaign is successful since currently, the European Commission is contemplating to install a moratorium if member states don't agree on a compromise.
"The Commission will wait to see the proposals from the companies, but as things stand we believe the opinion from the EFSA provides sufficient evidence to proceed with the proposed measures," Commission health spokesman Frederic Vincent told Reuters.
The companies' plan now centers around planting more flowering margins around fields in order to increase bee habitats - the lack thereof having been discussed as a possible cause of the current decline in bee population.
Furthermore, the companies agree they would monitor to detect neonicotinoid pesticides, which are at the heart of the current bee controversy, as well as provide for more research into the impact of parasites, viruses and other factors on the insect.
"This comprehensive plan will bring valuable insights into the area of bee health, whereas a ban on neonicotinoids would simply close the door to understanding the problem," Sygenta Chief Operating Officer John Atkins said in a statement.
A study funded by Sygenta and Bayer showed that a ban on treating seeds with neonicontinoids would cut EU net wheat exports by 16 percent and result in as much as a 58 percent increase in maize imports. The total cost to the EU from these effects, according to the researchers, falls around 4.5 billion euros each year. Offsetting positive effects from potentially increased bee efficiency weren't subject of that study though.