Bees are an important barometer of the health of our ecosystem and the situation of our habitats and species across the EU is worrying, Mairead McGuinness MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament told a Forum on Biodiversity organised by Apimondia – the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations – on the topic of Biodiversity and Agriculture in Drogheda on Friday (23rd June).
“We tend to take bees and their vital work of pollination for granted,” Ms. McGuinness said. “In Europe 84pc of cultivated plants are dependent on insect pollination. And worldwide 70pc of the plant species used for food depend on this kind of pollination.
“Approximately one third of all the food we eat depends on insects for pollination. The actual economic value of the work done by bees has been measured at an incredible €153 billion worldwide. Simply put, without bees there would not be so many different fruits and vegetables.”
She said a rich and healthy biodiversity is needed for bees and the situation in the EU overall is not good. “Many insect pollinator populations are in decline because of changing environmental conditions such as habitat loss, climate change, invasive species and pesticide use.”
“But biodiversity is about much more than bees. It is about all living things, large, small and micro. For too long we have a division between farmers and environmentalists, when in reality there should be common cause as farmers need a good environment to farm sustainably and environmentalists need farmers to do the work on the ground.
“I urge greater harmony on the way forward towards a more sustainable future for all our citizens, including addressing concerns about biodiversity,” the MEP said.
“The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy with an emphasis on payment for greening measures, including crop diversification, permanent pasture and ecological focus area is part of a shift towards recognizing the need for a varied landscape that is mindful of the needs of all creatures great and small,” Ms McGuinness said.
She said plant protection products, especially insecticides, can be toxic to bees. Existing legislation on plant protection products clearly mentions that active substances used in these products can only be approved if they are safe for bees.
But the use of some insecticides – three neonicotinoids and fipronil – has been restricted in the EU because of concerns. And she said there is an ongoing review of the science behind the ban and little agreement between the environmentalists and the companies that produce the products about the results of the scientific research.
She said the debate about pesticide and insecticide use will continue to rage. “It’s one that should involve farmers and non-farmers. The all too frequent use of these chemicals in our garden and the practice of spraying roadside margins needs a sharp rethink.”
“In our gardens we can create places for pollinators. We do not need manicured lawns and perfectly straight edges, but we do need the birds and the bees and the butterflies and wild insects seen and unseen,” she said.
She commended the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations for their ongoing work.