Are the seeds you’ve planted killing bees?

Three days ago scientists from the university of California presented the first evidence that neonicotinoids, a commonly used pesticide here in New Zealand is impairing the ability of honey bees to fly. The report found that a “Common neonicotinoid pesticide decreases homing success in honey bees.”

Bees are a vital part of our economy and ecology

Ask someone at your dinner table if they’ve heard of neonicotinoid and they’ll probably look at you blankly.

Despite their complicated name manufacturers estimate that between 20 and 40 per cent of grass-seed sold in our country is pre-treated with neonicotinoids. The pesticide is sprayed on outsides of seeds to discourage harmful insects and birds from eating the crops, ensuring greater yields for farmers and horticulturalists.

However neonicotinoids have also been linked to the collapse of over a third of beehive numbers in the United States and between a third and half of beehives in Europe, where their use has been heavily restricted.

Maren Ricken of Kiwiseed says that their company are “Aware neonoticotoids are the number 1 reason for bees dying in the world.”

The humble honey bee has become a vital part of the New Zealand economy and ecosystem with New Zealand export earnings valued at $233 Million and beekeepers producing 12,000 tonnes of honey a year. Bees also provide pollination for a great deal of our fruit, flowers, and native plants.

The pesticide affects their flight pattern, with the bee’s sense of navigation being impaired, making bees fly greater distances to achieve the same amount of pollen collection. Instead of making a bee-line for their hive the navigationally confused bees make more of a bee-zag.

Over time, the decreased pollen collection results in the death of a hive as workers are forced to travel greater distances for the same amount of pollen. Studies have shown that neonicotinoides can remain in the ground and organic matter for years.

As in any issue where livelihoods are affected, everyone has an opinion;

Although aware of the discussion Stephen Black of Bees-R-Us Taranaki says he does not have a problem with seed coatings, “But I am aware that some NZ beekeepers suspect a problem, mainly in the Hawkes bay area.”

John McCullough, general manager of Egmont Seed Company was aware of the compound’s effects,” I am very aware of this chemical group and the potential it has to harm bees. None of the seeds used by Egmont Seeds contain Neonicotinoids.”

McCullough is also a beekeeper and a member of the Taranaki Bee Club where they regularly discuss such issues. McCullough told The Taranaki Thing he believes that New Zealand bees have a greater chance of resisting the neonicotinoids then their overseas counterparts, “Our bees have a far wider range of pollen and nectar sources to forage on, giving them a greater chance of resisting any exposure to disease or chemical.”

Charmaine Hanser used neonicotinoid-coated seeds without knowing it

Coastal farmer Charmaine Hanser had no idea what neonicotinoids were, later we found out that grass-seed she’d planted contained them. “We don’t want to do anything to hurt our bees, they’re essential for the clover that helps fix nitrogen into the soil. If I knew that (the seed was harmful) I wouldn’t use it, I don’t even spray pesticides on flowers.”

But it’s not just farmers who use them. Neonicotinoid coated seeds are often sold in garden centers. The best way to tell if the seeds you are purchasing contain the pesticide is to check whether they’ve been dyed. Manufacturers are required to dye seeds that contain neonicotinoids.


Dyed seeds contain Neonicotinoids

Seeds without dye don’t contain Neonicotinoids