A Buzz in the Meadow, by Dave Goulson, (Vintage, Books, 255 pages, paperback, $18.99.) .
Even if you’ve never paid much attention to bees, insects and bugs, you will be fascinated by Dave Goulson’s account of those he has found and studied. He is a research entomologist based in England, but much of the book is about a farm he bought in roughly the middle of France and allowed, with some help, to revert to its natural state.
The part of the book that interested me the most is his discussion and research into the role that neonicitinoid seed-treatment pesticides play in the decline of honey bees.
Like me and many Ontario farmers, he originally doubted that neonicitinoids were the main culprits in the decline. There are many other factors, such as varroa mites, lack of nutrition as they emerge in the spring, etc.
But Goulson discovered that many of the hives were simply empty. There were no carcasses. The bees had left. Or, he wondered, perhaps they could not find their way home.
What he found is that minute amounts of neonicitinoids that bees pick up from pollen and nectar is enough to disturb their nervous systems so they can’t find their way.
At the same time, another research team in France equipped bees with radios so they could be tracked. They concluded that miniscule amounts of neonicitinoids where damaging the bees central nervous systems so they could not find their way home.
Both Goulson and I have been convinced that neonicitinoids are far more harmful than the pesticide companies, which make $3.5 billion worth of sales per year, would have us and their farmer-clients believe.
What I find particularly disturbing is that repeated annual applications of neonicitinoid seed treatments increase residues in the soil. In winter wheat fields in Europe, they rise to levels far higher than those considered officially harmful to insects.
And Goulson cites U.S. research which indicates seed treatment of soybeans makes no difference to yields.
From this perspective, the Ontario government’s draconian measures to reduce neonicitinoid seed treatment seem altogether sensible.
If farmers can prove they need the seed treatments, and that they are effective, they can use them; if not, why should we pose the risks to essential species?