In the article ‘Feeding a growing world’, Julian Little, of Bayer, refers to insecticides as being more, or less, ‘bee-friendly’. While he was correct to refer to the relative toxicity of insecticides, they can hardly be described as ‘bee-friendly’.
Insecticides kill insects, including bees and other non-target species, and honey bees frequently are subject to collateral effects from the use of pesticides in crop protection. The correct terms to use are therefore ‘harmful’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘risk’.
This may appear to be a pedantic complaint, but beekeepers rely on the users of insecticides to exercise caution and to liaise with local beekeepers before using products that may harm bees. The term ‘bee-friendly’ serves to undermine this caution and encourage non-compliance.
Little also states that ‘some neonicotinoids are intrinsically bee-safe’. This has not been proven in respect of the neonicotinoids used in systemic products. Firstly, they are several thousand times more toxic to bees than DDT. Second, the pesticide risk assessment methodology for bees is far from satisfactory. Third, there is still research to be done on the sub-lethal and chronic effects of neonicotinoids on bees, through exposure to pesticide residues in nectar and pollen.
It is therefore important that agrichemical companies do not misrepresent their products, for in doing so they contribute to the ‘tarnished public image’ referred to in this article.