Bees work hard for us

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Stefan Browning and the Beehives.

Report by NewsroomPlus.com Contributed by Alex Barrow

Steffan Browning, Green Party MP, has urged New Zealanders to stop buying harmful insecticides that are slowly wiping out the bee population.

At yesterday’s launch of a public campaign in front of the Beehive, Browning called for the Environmental Protection Agency to take neonicotinoid pesticides off the shelf and out of our environment.

A major point ahead of the launch was that healthy bees are fundamentally critical to our food chain and need protection. This campaigning under the banner call-to-action of Save Our Bees, and ‘Bees work hard for us, but they need us to work hard for them too’, continues the efforts of former Green MP Sue Kedgley and others this decade, and recognises the risk to bees from both varroa mite infestations and widespread use of pesticides.

To bring this issue to a more heightened awareness Browning suggested yesterday that Parliament could look into maintaining bees in the Parliament gardens, considering the abundance of Pohutukawa in the summer months and as a tangible sign of encouragement for more New Zealanders to plant bee-friendly gardens or even to take up backyard bee-keeping as a hobby.

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Green MP Steffan Browning: “We could have beehives at the Beehive!”

Neonicotinoid pesticides, which are commonly available in hardware and gardening stores, are a target of the campaign, with the aim of taking pesticides such as Yates Confidor, Yates Rose Gun, KiwiCare Rose Force and KiwiCare Insect Hit “off the shelves and out of our environment”.

In addition neonicotinoids (or neonix) are embedded in the seed of a plant and, once grown, retains the chemical to ward off insect pests. However this is proving to be fatal to a vulnerable bee population, as well as causing environmental damage through leaching and leaking into waterways.

“Neonicotinoids have been shown to be damaging bee health. There have been some links to what is known colony collapse disorder. They will certainly reduce the bees immune systems as well as other pesticides too,” said Browning.

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The endangering of bees is not a new topic, and particularly came to public attention with documentaries such as ‘More Than Honey’ and ‘Vanishing of the Bees’. Browning is not only concerned for the bees in this sense, but also the lack of information supplied to insecticide buyers. “The most minute traces of neonicotinoids affect bees and we want them to restrict the use of neonix from seed treatments. One thing we want straight away is (for them) to be taken out of retail sales. Anyone can and will go and buy neonix off the shelf without knowing of the real effects of the sprays”.

There is a record high of bee hives at present, however evidence of the welfare of these hives is unknown.

“What we don’t know is the population of bees. Are those hives a lot of small hives? Have they got a robust colony? Or is it somewhat weaker? We do know that these things affect bees negatively… bee keepers find a lot of dead bees”.

Harmful insecticides, with catchy names such as Ultra Strike and Super Strike, have been removed from The Warehouse and PlaceMakers’ shelves, with the companies agreeing to help with the fight to ‘Save the Bees’.

“We’re going to the other major hardware stores, Foodstuffs, Progressive, and some of the garden chains as well, and putting it to them again, and some for the first time to say ‘Hey join in. We won’t be shy about letting people know that you’ve done this”.

Mr Browning isn’t just blaming the horticulture and agriculture industry. Albeit a relatively small scale of damage, backyard gardeners’ use of the product is also a risk. One particular example of neonicotinoids being used is in lawn seed. Although bees do not pollinate grass, lawn flowers can grow and they too will contain the harmful chemicals.

“It’s really good for people not to be spraying flowering plants or spraying somewhere where there are weeds. Bees aren’t discerning whether it’s a weed by our standards, or a flowering plant”.

Browning highlighted some gentler options. Topical sprays that are sprayed occasionally are better for bees as they only last for a very short time, unlike the long term effects of neonicotinoids.

Ultimately, organic growing would be the most ideal option but Browning understands that this is not entirely economically viable either. The best treatment he advocated was Neem Oil which has a lesser impact on insect life, but should still be used with caution.

Biodiversity is another form of natural pest control. “Encouraging more diversity in the gardens, and in agriculture and horticulture, [means that] there’s a range of parasites and predators naturally there to deal with some of the pests”. However he acknowledges that this is not a complete solution and that insecticides have their obvious merits, though he cautions against regular use.

Tacking the issue is likely to result in some heavy backlash from suppliers, Browning adds. “If the EPA reassesses it they’ll be in there (all) guns and all trying to have the least impact on their sales as possible. When the EU restricted some use for some plants over a two year period, which is just coming to an end now, I think that they’ll kick off again as well”. Although neonicotinoids are not necessarily cheaper to produce, they are “hard-hitting” which is why they sell.

Mr Browning further advises reading up on harmful insecticides for home growers. “No householder goes to a Growsafe course and gets trained how to use it. [The chemicals] might be on the label in the small print on the back… (yet) there’s a real risk”.

“We can have a healthy food chain, healthy ecosystem and healthy environment that includes bees and other pollinators doing their vital work,” said Mr Browning.

For more information go to action.greens.org.nz/bees and the website of the National Beekeepers Association of New Zealand (nba.org.nz)

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues.
Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia’s FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand’s The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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