I recently circulated a warning about possible Imidacloprid contamination in sugar beet, which many beekeepers feed to their bees. Since this has caused some discussion, I thought you may like to hear some facts that I discovered while checking the original story.
1. Imidacloprid is a neonicotinoid pesticide (i.e. similar in chemical structure to nicotine) now routinely used as a seed dressing on sugar beet - for up to two years in the UK, considerably longer in the USA and elsewhere.
2. Imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide, meaning that it permeates every cell of the plant, even if only used as a seed dressing. That means it WILL be present in the sugar, as processing does not affect it.
3. Imidacloprid is a powerful neurotoxin, lethal to bees in doses as small as five parts per billion, and has serious sub-lethal effects - including disorientation - at much lower doses. To put that in context, if you took ONE THOUSAND METRIC TONNES of 1:1 syrup made with beet sugar, and stirred in just ONE TEASPOONFUL of Imidacloprid, you would have a mixture capable of killing bees. Please read that last sentence again and think about it.
4. Imidacloprid is persistent in plant cells and in the soil (half-life in soil under aerobic conditions of up to 997 days), where it kills ALL insects - including beneficial ones - and it accumulates, season on season, until it reaches a 'stable' level, assumed by some authorities to be something like 10 parts per billion. It is also likely to contaminate ground water.
5. The US 'Environmental Protection Agency' has approved permitted levels of Imidacloprid in sugar beet of 0.05 parts per million - that is at least TEN TIMES the lethal dose for bees.
Do you still think it is safe to feed sugar beet syrup to your bees?
And where is the British Bee Keepers Association in all this? Still taking money from Bayer in return for endorsing some of their pesticides (not, so far, including neonicotinoids) as 'Bee Friendly'. Has the BBKA come out with a statement condemning the use of Imidacloprid, or the closely related Clothianidin, which killed nearly half a billion bees in Germany in May this year? Have they ever issued a statement supporting the German and French beekeepers' call for a ban on neonicotinoids? Has the BBKA ever criticised ANY of Bayer's products? All I have seen is a series of half-hearted, limp statements that defend the status quo.
However, please do not imagine that I am 'anti-BBKA'. I want the BBKA to be a strong campaigning body on behalf of bees and beekeepers, not a puppet of Bayer's marketing department. They should be free and independent of all commercial interests and should represent beekeepers, NOT chemical corporations that have no interest in the health of bees, other than the profit they may make from selling medications like Bayvarol (that ultimately make the Varroa problem worse by selecting for pyrethroid-resistant mites).
I urge all UK beekeepers to lobby the BBKA through their local branch to abandon their mute acceptance of 'cash for chemicals' from Bayer, Syngenta or any other company, and to to request that they make a clear statement supporting organic farming, which is the only safe option for bees.
1. The facts about Imidacloprid in this message have been checked by a microbiologist.
2. You can read more about Imidacloprid here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imidacloprid
3. You can read the EPA's document on Imidacloprid here: http://www.epa.gov/EPA-PEST/1998/September/Day-18/p25085.htm