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Insecticide reviewed for bee industry

A newer class of insecticide commonly used to control insect pests in crops is unlikely to present any greater threat to honey bees and crop pollination than other pesticides that have been in use for many years.

April 29, 2014 3:00am

Misuse of a chemical could pose a threat to bee populations.


A newer class of insecticide commonly used to control insect pests in crops is unlikely to present any greater threat to honey bees and crop pollination than other pesticides that have been in use for many years.

That was one of the findings earlier this month at a symposium held in Canberra organised by Plant Health Australia, the not-for-profit co-ordinator of the plant biosecurity partnership in Australia.

The meeting of 90 representatives from government agencies, the honey bee industry, crop industries that rely on honey bees for pollination, and researchers, examined information gathered globally on the effects of neonicotinoids on insect pollinators.

It was agreed that neonicotinoids could adversely impact bee populations if used incorrectly, the same as other pesticides (including insecticides and fungicides), but that with sensible safeguards in place the chemicals could still be used to control pests on crops.

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority chief regulatory scientist Les Davies described the findings from a recently-published APVMA summary report looking at the possible risks to bees arising from the various uses of the neonicotinoid insecticides in Australia.

‘‘Having reviewed information collected from around the world over the past few decades, it’s clear that it’s not possible to attribute bee population declines in some parts of the world to the introduction of the neonicotinoid insecticides,’’ Dr Davies said.

‘‘Current scientific opinion is that these pollinator declines are likely to be caused by multiple interacting pressures that may include habitat loss and disappearance of floral resources, honey bee nutrition, climate change, bee pests and pathogens, miticides and other chemicals intentionally used in hives and bee husbandry practices, as well as agricultural pesticides.

‘‘To reduce the risks from pesticide use we need to ensure that a range of regulatory, industry stewardship and educational measures are in place.’’

The APVMA report acknowledged that incidents of beekeepers losing bee colonies as a result of insecticide do occur, but these can be minimised with proper use and effective communication between the farmer and the beekeeper.

The report concluded the introduction of neonicotinoids had probably reduced risks to the environment from the application of insecticides.

Plant Health Australia’s Rod Turner said the meeting was a positive step towards better understanding how honey bee activities and chemical control of insect pests can occur side-by-side, with correct use and application.

‘‘Australia has one of the healthiest bee populations in the world and the research indicates that with sensible measures, we will be able to keep them healthy and benefit from their honey making and pollination services,’’ Mr Turner said.

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