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How insecticides are killing our honey bees

How insecticides are killing our honey bees
The bees have been identified along with other pollinating agents as vital pollen carriers as they are also responsible for one-third of food men consume daily.
“ANY insecticides sold or smuggled into the country are poisons that can and will kill.”

This is the lingering thought of an entomologist concerned over the adverse implications of insecticide use on the dwindling honey bee population.

A visit to a local honey bee hives site would set one’s gaze upon a swarm of bees relentlessly buzzing around their respective nests building their honey bee colonies.

The swarm of dedicated soldiers are largely innocuous stingless bees which are native to Malaysia and its immediate neighbours. 
"The stingless bees, although related to the better-known honey bees, make up their own distinct tribe called the Meliponini.

"All of the world’s several hundred species are tropical or subtropical and distinguish themselves by having vestigial stings,” said entomologist Professor Dr. Peter A.C. Ooi, quoting the American Scientist.
Meliponines or stingless bees which are more common in Malaysia form a huge proportion of some 500 species of bees that serve one of the most important roles in the biosphere as pollinating agents.

The bees have been identified along with other pollinating agents as vital pollen carriers as they are also responsible for one-third of food men consume daily.

The sight of swarming bees would no longer be common as their very existence is at stake as they fight to stay alive due to the severe implications of insecticides on them.

Facts about honey bees

Pest insects develop resistance to insecticides

The constant use of insecticides among farmers has become a bane to the livelihoods of bees.

Dr Ooi said pest insects readily become resistant to the insecticides used and that subsequently will trigger an increased usage of insecticides which kills the bees as well.

Pest species can become resistant to many chemical insecticides because pest species have developed a system to overcome chemicals in plants that can kill them.

“The problem is that farmers have the wrong notion that insecticides kill only pests. Actually insecticides are toxic to all types of insects, including honey bees,” he added.

Drawing from his research on "The Impact of Insecticide Resistance on the Environment in Cameron Highlands", Dr. Ooi said: “The greatest challenge in managing the diamondback moths was to place the cabbage farmers out of the pesticide treadmill.

“The first record of resistance of an agricultural insect pest to insecticides in the world dates back to the 1950's. There were many other reports which followed over the years, however there were no significant efforts made to overcome this.”

Dr Ooi said, 20 years after the first report of insecticide resistance, the status of diamondback moth (also known as cabbage moth) -- one of the most destructive insect pest -- still continued to be pestering and showed a need for an alternative approach so as to avoid collateral damages.

Apart from the higher dose of insecticides resulting in the subsequent death of more bees, a recent finding by researchers from University of Bern, Switzerland highlighted that neonicotinoid insecticides could lower the living sperm cell counts in exposed male honey bees.

The National Geographic news portal reported the finding on Tuesday, bringing to focal point the role of neonicotinoid, a predominantly used insecticide as one of the contributing factors in the global collapse of honey bee populations.

Bees become collateral damage in man’s battle against dengue

 In an attempt to foil the spread of mosquitoes, men’s fogging activities have overwhelmingly led to the tragic death of bees.
The struggle of bees is not confined to evading only the realms of farming and agricultural use of pesticides but also in men’s fight against dengue.

In an attempt to foil the spread of mosquitoes, men’s fogging activities have overwhelmingly led to the tragic death of bees.

“As it stands, the carelessness of spraying insecticides, for example fogging of toxic chemicals to control mosquito will decimate the stingless bee populations,” said Dr Ooi who has supervised a postgraduate research titled "Chemical Composition of Malaysian Stingless Bee Honey and Propolis" during his tenure as a professor at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman.

The bees do not stand a chance as bees, unlike the pest species, do not possess enzymes to detoxify the poisons, he explained.

“The killing depends on the level of toxicity. Class 1A can kill not only insects, but also humans at low concentrations. Even Class 4 will kill all insects but need a higher concentration to kill humans.

“Hence fogging with phosphate insecticides such as malathion (a common insecticide used for fogging) will kill bees. The killing is more effective as fogging can spread the insecticide to wider areas,” he said.   

Toxicity class can be referred to as a classification system that distinguishes between the more and the less hazardous forms of selected pesticides based on acute risk to human health (that is the risk of single or multiple exposures over a relatively short period of time) and the environment, according to World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO Recommended Classification of Pesticides by Hazard classified four toxicity classes as Class I-a (extremely hazardous), Class I-b (highly hazardous), Class II-b (moderately hazardous) and Class III (slightly hazardous).

Meanwhile, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the four toxicity categories are Category I (highly toxic and severely irritating), Category II (moderately toxic and moderately irritating), Category III (slightly toxic and slightly irritating) and Category IV (practically non-toxic and not an irritant).

Technology is not science and green doesn’t describe the forest

There is often no justification for the use of insecticides.
On his thoughts about the persistent use of insecticides in farming and agriculture, Dr Ooi  said, “There is often no justification for the use of insecticides, and often these are used either for aesthetic purposes or to show their ignorance of the rich biodiversity in the tropics that keep our pests in check.”

He prefers the conventional biological control method which involves the introduction of natural predators to contain the problems of pests instead of the disruptive chemical or synthetic means.

“As with many technologies, the thoughts are not based on science but convenience and keeping up with the Joneses. Technology is NOT Science and green does not describe the forest,” he said implying the many flawed conceptions people have on material ideals and the applications of science and technology.

“If the bees disappeared off the surface of the globe, then men would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more men.”

This saying usually attributed to the renowned physicist and Nobel laureate Albert Einstein with regards to the colony collapse disorder vividly illuminates the crux of the problem that men have brought upon the environment and himself.

If people only realise the significance of the honey bees for humankind’s survival after the buzzing sound of the bees have completely faded from the wild, will it be too late to rectify the situation?

While the consequences of insecticides are undeniable on the survival of honey bees, the Genetic Literacy Project claimed on Thursday: “There is no dangerous recent decline in the global honey bee population and a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids are not fostering a global pollinator crisis.”

The biotechnology and genetics outreach organization however said, because of the critical role that pollinators play in nature and agriculture in particular, it is wise to continue monitoring the bee population in the coming years.