- Millions of French honeybees suffering from "mad
bee disease" are becoming so disoriented they are unable to find their
way back to their hives, causing a dramatic drop in honey production.
- Honey bees will die within hours if they cannot find
their way home. Only bees collecting nectar from sunflowers appear to be
affected and environmentalists are pointing the finger at a systemic pesticide,
Gaucho. Yesterday the government ordered a two-year extension of a ban
on using Gaucho on sunflower seeds, to allow more study of its impact on
- Gaucho is used to coat seeds before sowing and moves
through the plant via the sap. It is based on imidaclopride, a chemical
that acts on the nervous systems of a wide variety of pests, including
wireworm and aphids.
- The German pharmaceutical firm Bayer, which manufactures
Gaucho and sells it in 70 countries, says the pesticide leaves a residue
in nectar and pollen but not nearly in the quantity required to have an
impact on bees. However, beekeepers quote studies showing that plants sowed
on the same spot as a crop treated with Gaucho, even two years later, contained
traces of the product.
- The National Union of French Beekeepers (UNAF) reported
that national honey production fell to around 25,000 tonnes in 1999 from
35,000 tonnes before systemic pesticides were introduced in the early 1990s.
The number of hives has plummeted to one million from 1.45 million in 1996.
- The agriculture minister, Jean Glavany, has launched
an urgent investigation and has asked a committee of independent experts
to look at all possible causes.
- He has asked the ministryís toxicology commission
to report as soon as possible on the potential impact of Gaucho residue
on soil. The pesticide is also used by wheat, barley, maize and sugar beet
growers to protect against greenfly.
- Gaucho was introduced in France in 1994 and some beekeepers
say they observed a change in bee behaviour as soon as it began to be used.
- One honey-producer from the VendÈe said: "After
just three days, the activity around the hive was sharply reduced and the
bees were wandering all over the field, completely disorientated, and eventually
- Bayer says scientists must look at other causes for the
bee population decline and points out the problem has affected beekeepers
across the country, including many in regions where Gaucho is not used.
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