“Creating a buzz: how to influence bee health policy”

02 March 2014 - By: Sarah Blackford

“Creating a buzz: how to influence bee health    policy”

“International bee experts swarm to London”

Poster prize winner, Léa Tison
Poster prize winner, Léa Tison (Institut für Biologie-Neurobiologie Freie Universität Berlin) pictured centre with organisers Geraldine Wright and Chris Connolly.

By Sarah Blackford

These catchy headlines certainly did a good job of attracting a full-house of over 100 delegates and speakers to Charles Darwin House, where our annual ‘Trisoc’ meeting was held in January this year. Organised jointly by SEB and our sister societies, Biochemical Society and the British Ecological Society, this year’s meeting, entitled “Impact of Pesticides on Bee Health”(1) , featured presentations by speakers from academia, industry, research institutes and governmental policy departments. 

It was always the intention of the organisers, Chris Connolly (Dundee) and Geraldine Wright (Newcastle), to open up the meeting to a non-academic audience and include people with genuine concerns about bee population decreases, and they weren’t disappointed. The final day featured an open discussion session live streamed (2) to the public, who posed questions to the delegation, providing a lively forum for opinions to be aired and debated. Representatives from the media, environmental pressure groups (e.g. Friends of the Earth) and organisations such as the National Farmers’ Union challenged the academic, government and industry scientists on the bigger policy questions and issues.
I was only able to attend the meeting on the final day, but Chris Connolly gave a succinct summary of the key issues during the open discussion at the end of the morning session. The core of the controversy between academic and industrybased scientists seems to be around the issue of research methodology: that is, the validity of field studies vs lab studies. Richard Schmuck (Bayer), who presented on Friday morning, demonstrated from his field studies that, although effects on individual bees is evident, the whole colony remains unaffected when treated with neonicitinoids. He also argued that, without pesticides, more land would be needed to grow crops, which would have a detrimental effect on the environment and biodiversity.

Challenging these claims, Dave Goulson (Sussex) highlighted the fact that typical crop fields receive about 22 pesticide applications in a single growing season and, although pesticide use is recorded under an EU regulation, the UK government does not collect this data, so nobody can accurately assess local exposure levels. Dr Goulson also argued that since lab studies had been used to test pesticides before they went to market, current lab studies revealing toxic effects on bees are equally valid. Sandra Bell from Friends of the Earth initiated a discussion on integrated pest management and organic farming options, which she said have been neglected in favour of a pesticides monopoly over the past 30 years. She argued that more research should be conducted into these more environmental friendly and inclusive practices. 

The conference concluded with a still-polarised audience, as reported in an article by Emma Bryce for the Guardian (28th January 2014)3 . Summing up, Chris Connolly said, “Given that we use ~300 different pesticides (700 worldwide), plus other threats such as habitat destruction leading to poor nutrition, we can never prove which has the greatest impact. Our only hope is the usual slow consensus of opinion by which scientific knowledge progresses.” The story continues…. 


1. www.jointbessebbs.org/2014/Programme.aspx 
2. bit.ly/19XSUEl 
3. bit.ly/1f7YpiO 
4. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neonicotinoid

Category: Animal Biology
Sarah Blackford

Sarah Blackford

Sarah Blackford is the Head of Education and Public Affairs at the SEB and the editor of the SEB magazine. As a qualified careers adviser and MBTI practitioner, Sarah provides career development and support for SEB members and the wider scientific community. Sarah is also an active member within SEB+, focusing on a number of initiatives aimed at improving gender equality and diversity in the science field.