Honey Bee Pesticide Poisoning Incidents


Are honey bee pesticide poisoning incidents being properly identified and measured - or even adequately reported?

This is of interest, because in the UK, for example, during the debate about whether neonicotinoid pesticides kill bees, it has been claimed that there is no evidence that they are linked to bee losses. It is stated that honey bee poisoning incidents are monitored, and there is no evidence to suggest concern.

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The UK Invertbrates charity, Buglife, investigated this claim. Here is what they say - from 6th April 2011:

"Neonicotinoid pesticides increasingly implicated in Honeybee mass poisoning incidents


An investigation by Buglife has revealed that contrary to statements made by Government scientists from the National Bee Unit on yesterday’s Channel 4 News item there is evidence of an increasing link between Neonicotinoid pesticides and bee deaths in Britain....


On the news item Dr Helen Thompson, from Fera, the Government’s agricultural research organisation, stated that “there is no strong evidence that they [Neonicotinoids] are actually linked to bee losses - at all....

However, Buglife reviewed Fera’s data and found that there have been several cases in the last two years when the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme has implicated Neonicotinoid pesticides in mass bee deaths.

Not only that, but the number of reported incidents have been rising in recent years and, importantly, an increasing proportion of the incidents are associated with Neonicotinoid pesticides."


The report then goes on to outline how the proportion of honey bee pesticide poisoning incidents due to neonicotinoids has increased from 0% in 2008 to 27% in 2010.

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However, one could argue that the overall number of incidents is rather small anyway.

Certainly, the low figures surprised me - but then, I have heard about incidents going unreported.

This begs the question:

             "are honey bee poisoning incidents really
adequately reported - or not, and whose job is it to ensure they are?"

We need to know, because when claims such as those by Fera's Helen Thompson are made, we need to be sure we can have confidence in their validity, especially given the amount of independent evidence implicating neonicotinoids in bee deaths.


WIIS - Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme


A report by a Spray Liaison Officer and beekeeper, Dr Bernie Doeser, is interesting reading. You can download it here (opens new window).

Within the report, Dr Doeser outlines the inadequacies of the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme mentioned above by Buglife, with regard to honey bees and beekeepers and the reporting of honey bee pesticide poisoning incidents.

These inadequacies include (and do take into account the large increase in numbers of new beekeepers):


    - lack of awareness about the reporting scheme
    - lack of knowledge about how to identify poisoning incidents
    (and if beekeepers don't know it's a poisoning, they won't report it will they!)
    - dysfunctional (chemical) Spray Liaison network
    - "Reporting an incident takes time, effort and a little money. The benefits to the beekeeper of reporting an incident are zero."



Dr Doeser concludes:
"Certainly anyone basing their argument that bees are safe from pesticides on the low level of incidents reported to the WIIS does not understand how the scheme works, or perhaps more accurately, how it doesn’t work."

Note that the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme is led by the Chemical Regulations Directorate, who are responsible for the approval of pesticides, and who also work closely with DEFRA and FERA. Presumably, it's their job to rectify this situation - although I won't hold my breath.


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