Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has also confirmed plans for tests on all pesticide application equipment. Compliance with the EU’s Integrated Pest Management programme will be mandatory from Jan 1, 2014.
The European Commission is imposing a two-year ban on three named insecticides, which it blames for killing bees that pollinate food and fruit crops. The ban is being challenged by pharma firms Bayer and Syngenta, producers of the ‘neonicotinoids’ in question.
In the Dáil, Labour TD John Lyons sought the minister’s views on the role of bees in pollination and food production, and the effect of pesticides on the Irish bee population.
Mr Coveney said: “Bees play an essential role worldwide by pollinating many of our commercial food crops. There are over 100 native species of bees in Ireland and the Department of the Environment has valued their pollination services as being worth €85m per annum to the Irish economy.
“It is important to note that significant bee health issues are also being experienced in areas where there is little or no pesticide use. There are also instances where well managed apiaries, in areas of intensive agricultural production, experience little change in the general health of their hives.”
Mr Coveney said the varroa mite, plus the associated viruses it spreads, and difficult weather conditions for beekeeping over recent summers, are also seen by many as the main causes of colony mortality among Irish bees in recent years.
However, he said his department is acutely aware of the risks which can result from the use of pesticides. This is why part of the farm inspection programme is devoted to checking proper pesticide use, he said.
“My department is currently introducing registration and training requirements for sprayer operators and a programme of testing of all pesticide application equipment,” Mr Coveney said.
Debate continues following the commission’s decision to restrict the use of neonicotinoid-containing products on bee-attractive crops. The ban will be introduced even though only around half of the member states having voted for the proposed restrictions.
Bayer CropScience says the ban is disproportionate and distracts attention away from the real issues surrounding poor bee health. Bayer’s blog, AGprofessional.com, said the firm remains convinced neonicotinoids are safe for bees when used responsibly and in accordance with the label instructions.
The blog stated: “The European Commission could have taken the bold decision to focus on the real issues surrounding bee health such as the varroa mite, bee diseases and viruses, and the need to provide more nectar-rich habitats.
“Bayer CropScience is extremely disappointed that they, instead, took the controversial decision to restrict useful products with a long track record of safe use. European agriculture will be less sustainable as a result.”
Bayer argued the ban will leave crops such as maize, oilseed rape, and sunflowers open to destructive pests. This will limit member states’ ability to produce quality, affordable food.
However, in the UK, around 3m people signed a petition in support of the ban presented to Westminster by the Friends of the Earth.