As I am writing this during National Insect Week at the end of June it is appropriate to return to the subject of bees and their problems. For a host of reasons both wild bees and domesticated honey bees continue to decline, both here and in other parts of the world. The charity Buglife characterises insects as ‘ the little things that run the world ’. This running of the world is mainly invisible and unknown to most people, but as bees pollinate about a third of all our food they are very special.
Last year, in the face of mounting evidence of harm to bees, what may be the most widely used insecticides in the world, neonicotinoids, were banned in Europe for two years. This week the National Farmers Union and Sygenta, one of the major manufacturers of the chemicals, have claimed that new evidence from Sygenta funded trials in France have shown that the chemicals do little harm, and Sygenta have formally asked the Government to lift the ban in Britain. The decision on that is being made on Tuesday 1 July. Whilst this is going on independent scientists who have studied all the research results over the last four years have said that evidence of harm is ‘conclusive’.
What those of us who are not scientists are supposed to do and think is not clear. Under these circumstances the ‘precautionary principle’ is a good thing. If there is enough evidence to suggest a problem then don’t allow the chemicals to be used until it is clear one way or the other. The manufacturers and farmers however do not like this, their profits seem more important to them than environmental protection. The difficulty is that a lot of science is, by its nature, uncertain; cause and effect are not always as straightforward as they appear.
We should have learnt from our experiences with regard to the harmful effects of DDT, and the link between smoking and lung cancer. Big business twisted and turned for years, resisting mounting evidence, lobbying politicians and falsely reassuring the public. I cannot make your mind up for you, but I know which side of this argument I favour, and which I think the bees would too.