By Alex Kirby, BBC News Online
French Agriculture Minister Herve Gaymard on Tuesday announced
it planned to stop use of the Gaucho pesticide to treat corn seeds
until it is reviewed by the European Commission in 2006.
In January last year, Gaymard had already extended for three years
suspension of the use of Gaucho, a chemical produced by the German
chemicals and pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, for treatment of sunflower
Gaucho, like another pesticide Regent TS produced by German chemicals
giant BASF, has been accused by French bee-keepers of causing
a high mortality rate among bees. Sales of Regent TS was suspended
in France last February.
An agriculture ministry report deemed that the government's decision
to give farmers till June to use up their remaining stocks of
pesticide was much less costly that destroying the crop seeds
already sprayed. But the national association of bee-keepers says
massive damage is being done to bee populations, which are crucial
to plant pollination.
Subisidiaries of Bayer and BASF, which sold Regent TS, are under
criminal investigation in France for selling an agricultural product
that is toxic to humans or animals. (sourche: AFP)
French beekeepers say about 90 billion of their insects have been
killed over the last 10 years by a pesticide.
The chemical, used on crops including maize and sunflowers,
damages the bees' sense of direction so they become lost. It is
used in the UK on several crops, though not in exactly the way
it is used in France, and British beekeepers have been urged to
be on their guard.
UK apiarists say the value of bees to the agricultural economy
is immense, and they fear bees are becoming rarer.
The chemical implicated in the loss of French bees is imidacloprid,
marketed under a variety of names including Gaucho. It is slowly
released in the plants, protecting them against insect attack
by destroying their ability to find their way.
A London newspaper, the Observer, reported: "Almost immediately
after the chemicals were introduced 10 years ago, beekeepers reported
that their bees were becoming disoriented and dying.
Used in UK
"Within a few years honey production in south-west France
fell by 60%. According to the chairman of the national beekeepers'
association, Jean-Marie Sirvins, a third of the country's 1.5
million registered hives disappeared. "As a result, France
has had to import up to 24,000 tons of honey annually."
The pesticide companies say their products are not responsible
for killing the bees.
There are no reports of any ill effects from applications of
imidacloprid in the UK, where it is licensed for use on beet.
There are restrictions on its use when the plants are in flower,
or for spraying the foliage. But Richard Jones, the director of
the International Bee Research Association, told BBC News Online:
"Beekeepers here have to be on the alert.
"The verroa mite, which feeds on the bees' blood, arrived
from mainland Europe, and we know that bees' nests can travel
a long way on container ships.
"People hear about bees and think only about honey, but
it's the other side of the problem that's worrying. "They
add billions of pounds to the value of the agricultural economy
every year because of their work in pollinating crops like apples.
"We don't have enough bees in the UK, and we have very
few feral bees. Every time a hedgerow is destroyed, that means
the loss of nesting places for bumblebees."