Save The Bees Petition in New Zealand by MP

Thursday, 08 Sep 2011
Report by Sue Kedgley MP in New Zealand to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee

1. An urgent reassessment by the ERMA [now EPA] of Neonicotinoid insecticides, and the use of other pesticides that are highly toxic to bees

The petition calls for an urgent reassessment by the Environment Protection Agency of the use of Neonicotinoid insecticides in New Zealand-and in particular their use as a seed coating on seeds such as grass and maize, as there is mounting evidence that Neonicotinoids may be contributing to unacceptable levels of bee deaths and to the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder overseas.

Earlier this year, the National Bee-keepers Association asked ERMA to conduct a re-assessment of Neonicotinoids, but were told they would have to fund an application for re-assessment themselves. In our view, it should not be left up to the National Beekeepers to finance a reassessment which is very much in the public interest, because our whole economy and ecology would be adversely affected if bee numbers were to decline steeply. We recommend that the EPA initiate a reassessment themselves, on the basis of the risks to our economy and ecology if honey bees were to be threatened in any significant way.

Until such time as the EPA finds that the Neonicotinoids do not pose a risk to bees, we further recommend:

1. that Neonicotinoids not be used as seed dressings on plants that may be attractive to bees such as pasture species and maize

2. that while they are still in use (i.e. existing stock), seed should be clearly labeled, and a statement included on any bag that they may pose a risk to bees

3. Farmers should be alerted to the potential problems to bees by a widely publicized education campaign.


Scientists are still trying to work out the exact causes of the syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder, which is contributing to large scale bee losses in Europe, America and Asia. However, there is general agreement that one of the triggers is the collapse of the immune systems of bees, as a result of a number of long term stresses, ranging from loss of bee habitats and food sources, to new bee diseases and parasites, stress and over work, and pesticides.

Neonicitinoid pesticides began to emerge as a prime suspect of Colony Collapse Disorder following scientific testing of bees after a spate of honeybee deaths in France and Germany.

In 1994, France's honeybee population suddenly crashed. Four times more bees than normal died. Those that didn't vanish behaved strangely or seemed paralysed. That was the year France introduced the insecticide imidacloprid to coat sunflower seeds.

In 2004, the French government suspended the use of imidacloprid on sunflower, maize, and oilseed rape. By this time an estimated 90 billion bees had died and honey production is reported to have been reduced by up to 60 percent. Bee populations gradually increased again after the ban[i].

Across the border in South Germany in 2008, more than 12,000 colonies of bees were poisoned by Poncho, which contains the Neonicotinoid clothianidin, applied to sweet corn seeds. Tests on dead bees showed residues of clothianidin. In May 2008 Germany banned a number of seed treatment uses, and 3 of these bans remain in place today. They include the Neonicotinoid pesticides clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxham[ii].

There have been significant bee losses in the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as countries like Japan and Taiwan. 36 states in America, where Neonicotinoids are widely used, have reported Colony Collapse disorder. Many bee-keepers are convinced that it is triggered when bees have significant exposure to Neonicitinoid pesticides.

Neonicotinoid insecticides have become widely used in the past decade. They are systemic chemicals that work their way up from the seed, through the plant as it grows and into the pollen and nectar. Bees feed on them and take the residues of the pesticides back to their hives.

They are also powerful neurotoxins for bees, attacking their central nervous system, and causing disoriented behaviour, which is why many European beekeepers believe they are largely to blame for the disastrous decline in their bee numbers.

The use of these pesticides has increased significantly in New Zealand over the past five years, as seed companies coat seeds such as ryegrass, clover, maize, sweet corn and squash seeds with neonicotinoid pesticides. White clover in pastures is an important food for bees, yet farmers are being urged by some seed companies to treat their grass and clover seed with these insecticides. We have received anecdotal reports that farmers are not being told the seeds they are using are coated with insecticides that are highly toxic to bees.

As well as anecdotal evidence from bee-keepers, research is mounting that Neonicotinoids pose serious risks to bee populations.

In 2009, a UK-based conservation organisation called Buglife released a report which found that over 100 scientific studies and papers highlight real concerns that Neonicotinoids are harmful to bees and other pollinating insects[iii].

Recent US Department of Agriculture research has also confirmed that Neonicotinoids make honeybees far more susceptible to diseases -even at tiny doses[iv].

Dr Jeffrey Pettis and his team at the United States Department of Agriculture found that increased disease infection followed after even tiny levels of exposure to Neonicotinoids. Dr Pettis's work is due to be published shortly.

Dr Pettis has recently made a presentation to MPs in the United Kingdom Parliament about the decline of bees and we recommend that the EPA contact Dr Pettis as part of their reassessment[v].

A French team of scientists at the National Institute for Agricultural Research, lead by Dr Alaux, has carried out a similar study to Dr Pettis, and has produced similar results: "We demonstrated that the interaction between the microsporidia Nosema and a Neonicotinoid (imidacloprid) significantly weakened honeybees"[vi].

Other pesticides may also be causing problems for our bees. A recent study of Colony Collapse Disorder afflicted bee colonies found that 98% of the hives were contaminated with pesticides and there were more than 170 different pesticides in bees from the affected hives[vii].

The concern is that pesticides that are toxic to bees weaken their immune systems and make them more susceptible to the Varroa mite and a host of other parasites and diseases. Recent research has found that bees try to evade some pesticides by entombing them within their hives, but entombing is not working - in fact some believe that entombing is an indicator that Colony Collapse is about to happen[viii].

The Minister of Agriculture, David Carter, has stated that: "If ERMA finds any new credible evidence that certain pesticides present a more significant risk to bees than currently thought, then the conditions of their use will be reassessed." That evidence can be found in the work of Dr Pettis of the USDA, and Dr Alauax of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, and other researchers. It is time now for the EPA to review this research, and this can only be done if they carry out a reassessment.

2. Undertake annual surveys of bee populations to assess whether our bee populations are declining

We recommend that regular, official surveys of honey bee numbers are undertaken by MAF, in coordination with the National Beekeeping Association, so that we can establish whether bee numbers are declining in New Zealand or not. Other countries like the United Kingdom undertake such surveys on a regular basis, and we believe we should begin such surveys here.

Colony Collapse Disorder hasn't been detected in New Zealand yet, although there have been a number of anecdotal reports of empty beehives, poor pollination and significant bee losses in the Canterbury and Gisborne areas.

But there is no room for complacency, as our bees are already in a fragile state, with weakened immune systems, thanks to the Varroa mite. In fact, all the pre-conditions that Dr Pettis has identified as being the triggers for Colony Collapse Disorder already exist in New Zealand: namely the Varroa mite; the recently discovered nosema disease, plus the widespread use of Neonicotinoid insecticides.

3. Develop a Healthy Bees Plan to protect and improve the health of honey and wild bees.

We recommend that MAF develop a long term strategy to improve the health of bees, which would have as one of its key objectives to prevent Colony Collapse Disorder from ever becoming established in New Zealand.

As part of this strategy, we would like to see nationwide bee-friendly plantings throughout rural and urban New Zealand. Federated Farmers Trees for Bees programme, which encourages farmers to plant bee-friendly trees along riparian margins on farmland, is an excellent initiative. But we do not consider this is enough. We need systematic planting of bee-food corridors of flowering plants and native trees right around New Zealand in order to sustain viable populations of healthy bees. In the United Kingdom bee highways - or corridors of flowering plants and natives for bees - are being planted as part of their bee strategy, and horticultural growers are required to set aside areas for planting of wild flowers to attract pollinators like honey bees.

The loss of biodiversity, bee habitats and natural food sources is already affecting our bee populations, as is the widespread practice of denuding the countryside of trees, gorse and broom and other flowering plants, particularly in large monocultural dairy areas with irrigation, where trees and other food sources for bees are being chopped down to allow the irrigating machines to operate.

Bees need good nutrition and a varied diet, including high levels of protein in their pollen to survive and thrive, and cope with pests and pathogens. They also require nectar for energy, so the availability of high quality pollen and nectar is critical, especially during spring when beekeepers are building up bee populations for pollination. When bees can't get the pollen or nutrients they need they become malnourished, their immune systems weaken and they are far more prone to disease and parasites.

4. Prohibit the importation of honey from countries that could introduce further bee diseases into New Zealand

It is critical that any strategy to protect our bee populations has as its primary goal to ensure that we do not introduce any new bee diseases. There are several devastating bee diseases that we do not have - yet - including European foulbrood and Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV).

If the government allows the importation of Australian honey into New Zealand, beekeepers predict the honey will inevitably bring in new diseases as well, including European foulbrood and Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV).

If European foulbrood were to enter New Zealand, bee-keepers would have to treat the disease with antibiotics -which until now, New Zealand bee-keepers have been prohibited from using.

The discovery of new diseases, and the necessity to use antibiotics to treat them, would undermine our premium honey market prospects, and contribute to the risks of antibiotic resistance in humans by adding to the pool of antibiotic resistance already existing in our livestock industries.

In September last year a new microscopic parasite that causes Nosema disease in bees was discovered in New Zealand. Each new disease further weakens the honey bee, as does the pesticides that are used to treat these diseases.

Another concern about Australian honey is the recent finding that some Australian honey had been mixed with honey from countries such as China and Argentina, and on sold as Australian honey.

Given the huge threat posed by new pathogens and diseases, we believe it is essential that we adopt a precautionary approach and do not permit imports of Australian honey into New Zealand.

A further threat to bee health is a proposal by the Kiwifruit industry and the organisation Kiwifruit Vine Health (KVH) to spray kiwifruit orchards with the antibiotic streptomycin in spring to control the new disease Psa. MAF has approved this use and has refused to comment on possible risks from this practice, referring all enquires to KVH.

Kiwifruit growers are absolutely dependent on beekeepers bringing their hives into their orchards in order to get good pollination. But the use of Streptomycin poses risks to the export markets for honey -as the United Kingdom and the European Union will not take any honey that has antibiotic residues in it. Not surprisingly many beekeepers are extremely concerned about the proposal to spray Streptomycin over affected kiwi fruit vines, and some are threatening to remove their hives from the affected areas. A Healthy Bee Plan could have prevented this situation from arising, by ensuring that horticultural industries are working in harmony with the beekeeping industry and the protection of bees.

[i] [ref: Kindemba V, 2009. The impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bumblebees, Honeybees and other non-target invertebrates. Buglife, The Invertebrate Conservation Trust.]

[ii] [ref: Kindemba V, 2009. The impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bumblebees, Honeybees and other non-target invertebrates. Buglife, The Invertebrate Conservation Trust.]

[iii] [ref: Kindemba V, 2009. The impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bumblebees, Honeybees and other non-target invertebrates. Buglife, The Invertebrate Conservation Trust.]

[iv] [ref: McCarthy M. Exclusive: Bees facing a poisoned spring. New kind of pesticide, widely used in UK, may be helping to kill off the world's honeybees. The Independent, UK. Jan20th, 2011.]

[v] [Harvey F. 2011. Honeybees entomb hives to protect against pesticides, say scientists. The Guardian.].

[vi] [ref: Alaux C, Brunet J-L, Dussaubat C, Mondet F, Tchamitchan S, Cousin M, Brillard J, Baldy A, Belzunces LP, Le Conte Y. 2010. Interactions between Nosema microspores and a neonicotinoid weaken honeybees (Apis mellifera). Environmental Microbiology 12(3):774-82.]

[vii] [ref: Mullin CA, Frazier M, Frazier JL, Ashcraft S, Simonds R, vanEngelsdorp D, Pettis JS. 2010. High levels of miticides and agrochemicals in North American apiaries: implications for honey bee health. PLoS ONE 5(3):e9754.]

[viii] [Harvey F. 2011. Honeybees entomb hives to protect against pesticides, say scientists. The Guardian.].