The use of a type of pesticide called neonicotinoids is on the increase, much to the dismay of beekeepers, who view ‘neonics’ as contributing to a decline in bee numbers. A worldwide reduction in bee populations poses a serious risk to the global food supply. ‘Bees are required in the pollination and reproductive process of food crops to make them viable. If we didn’t have those bees we could take a third of the food off our plate,’ said Melbourne beekeeper Carey Priest.

Neonicotinoids are applied to the seed or to the soil where the plant is to be grown. The plant takes up the poison into its tissue. ‘The whole plant becomes toxic,’ Priest said. The amount of chemicals that find their way into the pollen and nectar that bees feed on isn’t enough to kill them outright but peer reviewed studies have linked neonicotinoids to bee mortality. Priests thinks that one of the things that makes neonicotinoids worse that the pesticides that preceded them is that the effects aren’t immediately obvious, ‘If a bee goes and forages where RoundUp has just been sprayed they will cark it,’ whereas the effects of neonicotinoids are more ‘insidious.’ He is concerned about the sub lethal, cumulative effect of neonicotinoids. Priest said, ‘We haven’t dedicated the time to understanding the cumulative or cross multiplying effects.’

The European Union has partially banned the use of neonicotinoids until further studies have been carried out. While only a partial ban, Priest thinks the Australian government should impose similar restrictions here, or better yet, take its cues from French beekeepers, who forced a top down response from their government. Priest said ,‘They were up in arms and got active enough and vocal enough to lobby the politicians to put a partial ban in place.’