Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Ban the bad bug killers

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About 75% of the global crops that we eat are pollinated by insects (mainly bees) and if they die, our agricultural and horticultural sectors will face disaster. Photo / Thinkstock
About 75% of the global crops that we eat are pollinated by insects (mainly bees) and if they die, our agricultural and horticultural sectors will face disaster. Photo / Thinkstock

Every morning, I sweeten my coffee with a spoon of manuka honey and give silent thanks to the diligent insects that produce it for us.

When I first started wanting to reduce my sugar intake over two years ago, I issued a warning about the declining health of honey bees around the world.

But it is not just the sweet nectar that we need to thank insects for - about 75% of the crops that we eat are pollinated by them (mainly bees) and if they die, our agricultural and horticultural sectors will face disaster.

Yet in New Zealand, we are notorius for not following the precautionary principle when it comes to problematic checmicals that impact human health and the environment.

It took us a whopping 17 years to follow in the footsteps of the United States and ban DDT - the insecticide which has been linked to diabetes, breast cancer and a host of endocrine-disrupting problems (which range from miscarriage to reduction of sperm quality to birth defects).

My best guess is that those who do a roaring trade selling chemicals to farmers are to blame for this.

You see industry can afford to commission scientists to do studies that conclude that their products are safe.

Often, by the time independent analysis disproves these bespoke conclusions and products are banned, another - just slightly different - chemical product has been developed and (as Rebecca Reider pointed out while quoting a campaigner in her excellent article in the Element Magazine): "A chemical is innocent until proven guilty."

But this has now come to a head with another bad bug spray which kills bees and threatens my ability to afford the delicious honey I crave in the mornings: neonicotinoids or "neonics".

Only last year in June, after an EU ban threatened the viability of their members' products being sold, Agcarm, (New Zealand's very own agrichemical lobby group who's members import over $70 million USD of pesticides into New Zealand each year) published a factsheet to their customers which said "There is no scientific basis to support a ban of neonicotinoids in New Zealand (or to justify the European decision)" and that neonics are not contributing to declining bee population and bee health.

Both of these industry statements have been directly disproven by The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides - a group consisting of 53 scientists from 15 countries across four continents.

You can check out (and please share) this video for some alarming statistics on the problem:

This is another challenge where, unless people take a stand about it politcally (as has happened in the Phillipines), the powerful lobby groups will battle regulation until the cows come home unable to be sold anymore.

So what can we do about it?

* Share this article on email, Facebook or anywhere you can, and raise awareness about chemicals that negatively impact our precious bees

* Check out this list of organic pest control options

* Encourage plants and shrubs that flower in late summer/autumn and late winter/early spring: these are the hungry times for bees. Here is a list provided by the National Beekeepers' Association.

* Avoid spraying gorse, manuka or clover when they are in flower. You'll annihilate the bees harvesting from those plants.

* Avoid using any coated seeds - these usually have the neonic poison in them.

* Name and shame: Avoid anything with Acetamiprid, Theacloprid or Methiocarb in them. On the shelves of our garden centres, these are currently being sold as "Confidor" and "Rose Gun Advanced". Leave comments below with any others that you are aware of.

* Urban Trees for Bees was an initiative started by the National Beekeepers' Association and Trees for Bees NZ along with Landcare Research, OPI, Auckland Beekeepers Club and Auckland Council. They have some great tips for helping out our little friends. Click here to download their Urban Trees for Bees brochure.

* Click here to learn how to start your own hive

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