Spotlight falls on pesticide over bee deaths

HELEN MURDOCH , Nelson Mail, 1-Apr-2011
It is used for seed dressings, on agricultural crops, soil treatment, compost products, in wood preservatives and in animal flea treatments. But the synthetic neonicotinoid pesticide family is under the spotlight of beekeepers and the Green Party for its possible bee-killing properties.

It has been blamed for the widespread global deaths of honey bees.

The jury is still out in New Zealand where neonicotinoid is used in commercial and domestic pesticides, lawn care and animal flea products.

National Beekeepers Association upper South Island executive member Kerry Gentleman said pesticides did not carry enough warnings about their impact on bees.

The relaxed attitude to pesticide use concerned her.

"I would love to see containers carrying the picture of a bee and a cross over it."

Bee losses were hard to trace, but she had not heard of any in this region.

Beekeepers were talking to the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) about the possible reassessment of the pesticide's use as a seed coating, she said. The resulting plant's pollen and nectar was believed to contain a neurotoxin which attacked the insect's nervous system.

National Beekeepers Association joint chief executive Pauline Downie said the investigation would establish if the pesticide was major cause for concern.

Joint chief executive Paul Daniel said it did not appear New Zealand had yet suffered the same vast bee losses as overseas.

International research showed there were issues with the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, he said.

Beekeepers were not sure whether the pesticide was a major cause for concern, or if everything was rosy, "but I doubt it's the latter".

The industry was in the throes of a national bee loss survey. The results would be collated in June, he said.

Green Party food spokeswoman Sue Kedgley said the pesticide weakened the bees' immune systems, making them susceptible to disease.

The Greens want the use of all forms of the pesticide stopped until its use is reassessed by Erma.

The party has launched a petition calling on the Government to develop a "healthy bee strategy", regularly assess bee populations, suspend the use of neonicotinoids until they are assessed by Erma and ban the import of bee products or honey which could carry disease.

Agcarm chief executive Graeme Peters said the bee industry was important and the unexplained deaths concerning.

Scientists globally have focused on the widespread bee deaths. But most agreed to date that there was no single explanation, and multiple stresses were likely to be involved. Mr Peters said the German Bee Research Institute found varroa mite posed a far bigger problem to bee health than pesticides.
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He said the effects of pesticides on bees were assessed prior to any chemical's approval for sale. Neonicotinoids had been sold in New Zealand since 1992 but bee deaths seemed to have only recently increased, he said.