The temporary restriction on the use of certain neonicotinoid pesticides in the European Union in December 2013 came as a massive relief to all those concerned with the health of bees and the wider ecosystem. This was only achieved through a long and bitter struggle with the chemical companies with a vested interest in their continued production.
So it might come as a surprise to many that new research from Ethical Consumer (www.ethicalconsumer.org) has found neonicotinoids on sale at nine major garden centre chains. In its latest special report (www.ethicalconsumer.org/ethicalreports/gardening.aspx) on gardening, the magazine found a number of garden centres were selling pesticides containing thiacloprid.
While the sale of this chemical is legal, there is mounting evidence it is having a worrying negative impact on the health of bees.
Unsurprisingly, Bayer – the chemical company that developed thiacloprid – claims that it is perfectly safe, pointing to the pesticide’s lower toxicity in terms of its lethal dose compared with the banned neonicotinoids. But when thiacloprid is sprayed on crops rather than being applied as a seed coating there can be much higher concentrations in the pollen and nectar that bees are drawn to.
And even at the below-lethal doses used on honeybees in a study by the Society for Applied Microbiology, thiacloprid was found to enhance the negative effects of the pathogen black queen cell virus by increasing the viral loads present in the bees. Separate research found that when bees were exposed to sub-lethal doses of thiacloprid and another insecticide - fiprinol - the mortality of bees already exposed to infection from the Nosema ceranae parasite greatly increased.
On top of the evidence that bee’s immune systems are hit by the pesiticide, another study by Germany’s Oberursel Bee Research Institute has linked thiacloprid to negative effects on the honeybee’s all-important navigational memory. This means that the bees’ famed flower-tracking skills are hit, resulting in slower flight and longer times to find flowers.
Despite this mounting evidence, B&Q, Blue Diamond, Dobbies, Hilliers, Homebase, Notcutts, Squires, Wilko, and Wyevale garden centres continue to sell Bayer’s Provado Ultimate Bug Killer, which contains thiacloprid. While Ethical Consumer found that - of the 12 chains covered - Wickes, Strikes and Klondyke did not sell the product, none had a policy not to sell pesticides containing the chemical.
As a result, campaign groups including Friends of the Earth are calling for the EU neonicotinoid ban – which currently only covers three pesticides – to be extended to all chemicals within the group. And Ethical Consumer has called on garden centres to introduce a policy to rid their stores of pesticides containing thiacloprid.
Jane Turner, co-researcher on the Ethical Consumer product guide to garden centres said: “Gardeners will be shocked to discover that by using these insecticides they are unwittingly introducing dodgy chemicals into their gardens which are being increasingly implicated in the crisis facing our honey bees”.
“We call on all garden centres to ensure that they don't sell any products that could harm our bees.”
The current restrictions on the use of imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin are themselves also greatly flawed. Initially only in place for two years (and ending in December this year), the restrictions only cover amateur uses and use on crops deemed attractive to bees, and summer-sown cereals.
As such, the pesticides continue to be used on winter-sown cereals and crops in greenhouses, ignoring their effect on other insects, birds and aquatic invertebrates.
While the use of neonicotinoids is likely to be only one factor contributing to the decline of bees and other pollinators that are so crucial for pollination and biodiversity, their continued use seems like madness when a potentially disastrous collapse of the bee population looms on the horizon.
Ethical Consumer’s gardening special report assesses garden centres, seed companies and compost brands on a number of different criteria, including the sale of harmful pesticides, the sourcing of stone and timber, the use of peat, and the sale of hybrid seeds.
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