Last June, the French government had a question about reintroducing the biodiversity law of September 2016 about the ban of neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide especially damaging for the bees. It will be introduced on 1st September 2018. It now authorises the sulfoxaflor (from Dow AgroSciences) and the flupyradifurone (from Bayer CropScience).
What are the neonicotinoides?
The neonicotinoids are a type of neurotoxic insecticide harmful for the insects. In agriculture, they especially help protecting plants and animals by controlling insects claimed to be detrimental. These chemical substances stay in the environment and end up spreading in a specific area. They are often used and are poorly bioavailable. They cause also impacts on non-target insects population like bee colonies.
According to a report from the French Agency for Food and Health Safety (ANSES) “the use of neonicotinoids create real negative effects on non-target species providing ecosystem services including pollination and integrated pest management. They lead to sublethal effects in particular when non-target species are exposed to low exposure dose during long period of time.” (, ANSES).
A study published by the magazine Science called “A worldwide survey of neonicotinoids in honey” has found the presence of neonicotinoids on three-quarters of 198 honey samples around the world. It was conducted by a team of French-Swiss researchers. In Europe, honey might be highly contaminated (the concentration of pesticides over 10 ng/g) of 79% of the contaminated honey.
These little worker bees do a huge job by ensuring the pollination.
There 1000 bees species living in our countries. For the ecosystems and the agriculture, they represent a priceless asset. According to researchers at the INRA (National Institute for Agricultural Research), the ecosystem service of pollination made by the bees costs out 153 billions of euros!
Nevertheless, this so useful worker bee is nowadays endangered. An article from the INRA (National Institute for Agricultural Research) explains the honey bee mortality rate and wild pollinators -that have been observed for 60 years- have significantly increased since 2000. It should be noted that this rate had almost reached out 30% in 2007 and 2008. The origins of this fall are multifactorial but pesticides are still the main reason. The consequences on the bees mortality rate should be a major concern.
The french honey production
The first consequence that comes to our minds is simple: no more bees, no more honey. The French National Union of Beekeeping (UNAF) has originally accused, in one hand with good reason, the neonicotinoids for the decrease of honey production in the last decades (see the chart: Annual honey production).
This drop of over 30% is a real concern because it happens when the honey demand and consumption are still really high. We do consum 40.000 tonnes of honey per year and we struggle to produce half of this volume. And ultimately, it is not good for our economy!
The authorisation of sulfoxaflor and flupyradifurone: a decision with wide ranging consequences
Why is the French government authorised the use of sulfoxaflor when it goes against the European and French laws? The answer is a simple but efficient conjuring trick from the manufacturers. They claim that their products are not neonicotinoids but another type of chemical products (family of sulfoximines), although their biochemical characteristics and their effects on the plants are still really similar. These products, like the neonicotinoids, might indeed contaminate pollen and the nectar of plants that would have soaked up them. These products may well cause the death of bees and contaminate honey, after the bees ingested them.
The conventional agriculture uses more and more crop protection products (pesticides, insecticides, herbicides) with negative impacts on our environment and our health. In this article, the subject is the bees but it is just one of the consequences of our poor management and the exploitation of natural resources.
There is a simple solution to avoid the spread of neonicotinoids; and also to hope the return of bees population : just to stop using of these products. However, the pressure of the agricultural lobby and the difficulty to conduct studies cannot help the outcome of these decisions.
What are our options? Let us remember that we are responsible of our consumption and we are part of the demand. I think that the real solution is to drive change in our agriculture by consuming wisely. We can encourage the development of an organic and long-lasting agriculture. So, we should always keep in our minds this question when we are running errands: “What kind of future will we want to build?”