Experts ring alarm bells over illegal pesticides’ effect on bee populations

“Sometimes we gather dead bees by the shovel-full. It’s obvious they’ve died of poisoning because their proboscides [tongues] are hanging out of their mouths.” The head of the Attica Beekeeping Association, Yiannis Psarras, goes on to warn: “The problem of bees being poisoned by pesticides, and particularly neonicotinoids, has been growing in recent years and is now a direct threat to nature’s main pollinator.”

Beekeepers in Epirus, northwestern Greece, are also concerned.

“Spring is when bees move to flowering areas like orange groves. If the weeds beneath the trees have been sprayed with pesticides, the bees landing on their flowers will die instantly. If one survives, it carries the poison together with the pollen and could kill the entire hive or affect the quality of the honey it produces,” says Anastasios Pontikis, head of the Aristaeus Association of Ioaninna Beekeepers.

The European Union has placed a ban on neonicotinoids, which is set to come up for review in December.

Psarras, however, claims that such products are widely distributed illegally in Greece.

“They’re easy to find because they’re smuggled. They’re cheap but very destructive and a lot of users are not aware of this,” says Psarras.

A lot of brands are produced in the EU for sale to third countries but end up inside the bloc nevertheless.

Psarras believes that a campaign to inform farmers and the public of the dangers of neonicotinoids is key to curbing their use, as are tighter controls by the state.

“The need to protect bees does not just affect beekeepers nor is it just an economic issue,” argues Psarras. “Bees are the critical link in the fertilization of our flora. Without bees, there is no pollination.”

Pontikis understands that farmers need pesticides but calls for steps to ensure they are using them correctly. For example, he says, they could inform beekeepers in the area when they are planning to spray so the bees can be locked up.

Pontikis is encouraged by a measure that is set to be introduced in November, which will require people who buy or use agricultural chemicals to acquire a state certificate of competence.

“We are hoping this will help with the issue of ignorance,” he says.

Beekeepers are also calling on municipal and regional authorities around the country to be careful in spring and early summer when they start spraying against mosquitoes, as they do in Attica.

“As far as we know, the products approved by the regional authorities are safe for bees, but we do not know what exact chemicals the companies that undertake the spraying ultimately use,” says Psarras.

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