Over the past decade, honeybee populations in many countries in the Northern Hemisphere have plummeted due to colony collapse disorder (CCD).The debate about the causes of CCD is ongoing: climate change, pesticides, food scarcity, monoculture crops, Varroa mites, strains of foul brood and loss of habitat, amongst others, have all been blamed.
Ignorance or arrogance?
Why do we experience so many incidents of bee poisoning ? It would appear to be because of general lawlessness. People apparently do not care to abide by the laws and statutes of the country.
When the canola disaster took place, CropLife examined the labels of all insecticides registered for use on canola to check for bee safety warnings. All of them had specific warnings prohibiting the use of the product after flower bud formation and while bees were active in the crop.
If pesticides registered for canola had been used according to label instructions with special attention to the safety warnings about bees, the disaster would not have happened.
Then came the phenylpyrazole disaster. This insecticide was mixed with molasses as bait for ant control. The molasses acted as a magnet for the bees, which had been starved by the crippling drought in the Western Cape. Common sense should have dictated that any molasses used as bait for ants would attract bees.
The fact that it killed bees only now after the practice had been followed for years shows a lack of understanding of bee biology. The bees were starving because of the drought and a subsequent lack of natural food supply.
Bees have a messaging system that is better than WhatsApp. Through this, they convey messages very far, very wide and very effectively via pheromones.
In addition, they perform a ritual at the hives, indicating food sources to their fellow winged warriors. It is thus no wonder that so many bees went after the molasses-pesticide bait and died in the process.
This is mostly the result of a neonicotinoid insecticide being applied by tractor spray or aerial application. The nitro-substituted neonicotinoid is extremely toxic to bees, and when the products are sprayed, any bee in the target area will die.
The label on this product specifically warns against using it as a foliar spray when bees are working the orchards. Products not registered as foliar sprays may only be applied as soil drenches.
Yet, the crop sprayers run and fly, loaded with neonicotinoid, and the bees are in the firing line. Once again, this is disregard for the law.
A responsible attitude is needed
The bottom line of the bee story is that bees are not dying from pesticides as such, but from the illegal application of pesticides. The proper guidance for using pesticides appears on all product labels. If people read and followed pesticide label instructions, the disasters described here would have been avoided.
By not following the label instructions, producers risk catalysing yet another disaster.To simply disregard pesticide label instructions is taking aim at life forms that have nothing to do with the targets we are supposed to be controlling with the pesticides. It is nothing less than criminal.