Europe sharpens focus on crucial ecological role of bees

Beekeepers and environmentalists globally are increasingly concerned about the threat posed to honey bees and other important pollinators by insecticides.

The European Commisison is caluating the risk posed and wlll publish its findings early nexr year.

Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of Copa and Cogeca, the umbrella body for European farmers and co-ops, told a conference in Brussels the EU is the world’s second biggest honey producer.

But in the last 10 years, the number of beehives is up 30% while honey production remains the same. Parasites, viruses, diseases, variable weather, agri-chemicals and climate change are some of the factors behind bee mortality, he said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was informed by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed that Irish agriculture is characterised by low levels of insecticide use.

He said he recognises the importance of protecting the environment, including insect biodiversity, while supporting sustainable food production.

Mr Creed said a partial ban on neonicotinoid insecticides was enforced in the EU in 2013 due to concerns for pollinators.

Intensive global research is ongoing to quantify impacts of field-level exposure to neonicotinoids and any impacts on honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bee species.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is studying the risks posed by neonicotinoids to assess all relevant data since 2013.

Minister Creed said this assessment is due to be ready by the end of January 2017.

“My Department will continue to evaluate pesticides based on robust scientific evidence, ensuring the availability of products to support sustainable agricultural production and recognising the need to find a sustainable balance between protecting pollinators and agricultural production,” said Mr Creed.

He said it should be noted there are 98 different species of bees in Ireland. These comprise of one managed species, the honeybee, and 97 wild species which include 20 species of bumblebees.

The best indicator of changes in the wild bee population is the national bumble bee monitoring scheme. Ireland was the first country in the world to develop a such a scheme. A number of other countries have followed that lead.

Research has identified that there has been no significant decline in bumblebee numbers.

Mr Creed said the State has also been monitoring over-winter honeybee colony losses each year since the winter of 2008-2009. Losses have ranged from 13% in some years to as high as 37% in 2012/2013.

The extremely wet summer in 2012 followed by the prolonged cold weather in early 2013 which resulted in a very late Spring proved a detrimental combination for Irish bees.

Indeed the impact of the weather that year is supported by the fact that for the preceding and the following years beekeepers only experienced 13% over-winter losses, he said.


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