Across the world, the lives of billions of bees hang in the balance.
It’s been well reported in recent years that bee populations have been plummeting, and many experts are blaming the use of nicotine-based insecticide chemicals, or neonicotinoids for the deaths. This “Beemageddon” has far broader implications beyond the honey-industrial complex (worth almost $150 million a year in the U.S. alone). Bees play a vital part in the broader agricultural industry, helping to pollinate as much as one-third of the world’s crops.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that for of people millions—if not billions—bees are the only thing standing between them and starvation.
The threat that these pesticides pose to bee populations is allegedly so great that in 2013, the European Union banned the use of neonicotinoid chemicals on crops that are “attractive to bees and other pollinators”, after a petition against their use gathered more than 300,000 signatures. The campaign culminated in the “March of the Beekeepers” in Britain’s Parliament Square.
However, a member of 38 Degrees, the British campaign group that organized the original petition, discovered this week that eBay’s British site, eBay.co.uk, was continuing—illegally—to stock bee-killing pesticides.
A petition was quickly drafted, but this time it took just 3,380 signatures to get noticed. Within hoursthe offending listings were removed from the online auction site.
Bees shouldn’t breath a sigh of relief just yet, however.
The E.U. ban is only in effect for two years, and the U.S. is not a signatory to any such regulation. A quick search for “imidaclorprid” on eBay.com yields more than 100 results for the controversial pesticide.
While neonicotinoid chemicals have certainly been a target in the effort to save bees, people have also suggested that improper application of pesticides, the unintended consequences of fungicides, and parasites all play a part in plummeting bee populations. “It’s a lot more complicated than just one product, which means of course the solution does not lie in just banning one class of product”, says one expert.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to refute that neonicotinoids play a significant and damaging role. A report from the European Food Safety Agency concludes that the pesticides pose a “high acute risk” to honey bees.
Photo by Monica R./Flickr (CC BY-2.0)