Hive depopulation syndrome and the use of pesticides

Hive depopulation syndrome and the use of pesticides

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By Lluís Torrente García

Large numbers of beekeepers are suffering from a serious problem all over the world; This is what is known as “hive depopulation syndrome”, which we could define as the various physical, chemical or biological causes that cause bees to die, become disoriented or their immune response is suppressed.

Large numbers of beekeepers are suffering from a serious problem all over the world; This is what is known as “hive depopulation syndrome”, which we could define as the various physical, chemical or biological causes that cause bees to die, become disoriented or their immune response is suppressed.

Bees are an important bioindicator of the quality of the environment. We can say then that something is not working well, that our planet is sick, and this is another of the symptoms that corroborate it. This is no surprise, anyone can see that there are many symptoms that indicate the same thing, but what surprises me is that nothing or not enough is done, when in several countries of the European Union they have already begun to take preventive measures. And that Spain is the community country with the largest beehive census: according to data from 2004 we had 2,464,601 colonies and 4,476 professional beekeepers. There are already enough studies and tests to begin to act, in our country some studies may not have been closed, but there are more studies from other countries with the same problem. I am surprised by the general disinterest on the part of everyone, apathetic authorities and politicians, the disinterest of society that sees the problem as foreign, and beekeepers, in many cases silent because they do not touch them and others because they may be interested. Fortunately, not all beekeepers are like this; there are others who have been struggling for a long time with very little help in solving this problem. A greater union and coordination of professionals in this sector would be necessary.

This carelessness or disinterest in society can also be caused by different reasons, as occurs with other environmental problems: the uncertainty of future damage or risk, believing that it is a distant problem (NIMBY syndrome, not in my backyard - not in the yard of my house-), therefore we do not feel like our own. The apathy of the authorities, political parties and agrarian unions could be explained by the unwanted effects of their solution, that is, a more eco-efficient technology has nothing wrong as long as it does not reduce one iota of competitiveness, profits, wages or employment, which is why many of the ecologically benign behaviors appear as undesirable.

All environmental problems are interconnected like a spider web: what happens at one end will also affect us, despite the distance. We are not getting rid of our own ecological footprint, which we have transferred to third world countries. One example is the use of DDT for almost 30 years: traces of this bioaccumulative pesticide are still found in the fatty tissues of many animals around the world (such as penguins in Antarctica). Although its use is restricted or prohibited, the truth is that its production and sale in developing countries is free (India), since it is used regularly for the treatment of pests-vehicles of infective organisms (Nicolás Olea) .

Depopulation occurs near our home and also in places as distant as the United States, Argentina, Uruguay, China and New Zealand. It has also been produced in European countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Poland, etc. In Spain, it has not occurred the same everywhere: in some areas of Galicia, in Córdoba, Guadalajara, the Balearic Islands and also in Catalonia. They have surely occurred in many other places, but they have not been disseminated or the data has not been provided. It is also true that other areas of Spain have not been affected at all.

The Ferrol region was one of the most important in Galicia in terms of beekeeping, and was one of the first affected by this problem. The A.G.A. (Asociación Gallega de Apicultura) had just over 100 members and currently there are 40, of which just over half, although they continue, are without bees. In the last 6 years, 85% of the beehive has been lost, and this percentage is not real since many are replacing and repopulating the hives frequently. In Galicia the total percentage can be assessed at 50%.

The depopulation syndrome causes the disappearance of up to 30% of bees in Andalusia in the last three years (according to Francisco Padilla, professor of Zoology at the University of Córdoba). From Córdoba, the agricultural organization COAG warned of the "catastrophic" year that has been 2008 for honey producers to the point that in many points up to 50% of production has been lost. An apiary in Córdoba usually generates an average of 22 kilos of product, a figure that has been reduced to ten in producing areas such as Hornachuelos or Montoro.

In 2007, 35% of the honey bees from the herds on the island of Mallorca were lost (according to the president of the Beekeepers Association, Pep Matas).

Like many environmental problems, the causes can be multiple and difficult to solve; in this case, due to the uncertainty of the causes and the unspecificity of the symptoms. The causes that have been considered so far have focused on nutritional problems and therefore related to flora, health problems, specifically those attributable to the new parasite Nosema ceranae or the action of varroa, and problems of poisoning by pesticides, of the type whose use has already been limited in France or banned, as in Germany, Italy and Slovenia, such as fipronil or imidacloprid. Other hypotheses of different kinds have come to the fore, highlighting the negative action of electromagnetic waves or the appearance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), among others.

To this day, there is no agreement among scientists on what is the cause of depopulation. It seems that there are several pathogenic conditions (nosemiasis, viruses, etc.) that weaken the colony but they are not the ones that directly cause the process. Nosema ceranae does not produce a disease that can cause problems if the hive is not weakened for other reasons. In addition, this disease causes problems that are constant every year, and this does not seem to be the case of desbejamiento. It is not constant nor is it always the same, at least in Spain. In southern apiaries, it has been found that it manifests less when field conditions are suitable, when there is a greater variety of flowering, but paradoxically, the affected colonies have food reserves. It therefore seemed that they were not starving, but it should also be remembered that the proper nutrition of bees depends on the proper combination of different types of pollen, which does not happen if there is little variety of flowering * 1.

In France and other countries, the main candidate to explain this disappearance are the insecticides imidacloprid and fipronil. Since then, it appears that this mortality has decreased. In some cases their colonies continue to be destroyed and the collection is very limited, since the soil continues to be impregnated with these long-acting poisons, for at least four years. It should be noted that imidacloprid is still used in France, especially on wheat and barley, and that the bans are limited to corn and sunflower crops (Guy Bernelas).

It would be a good measure for Spanish beekeeping to limit its use, although they cannot explain all the cases that occur (Andalusian Center for Ecological Beekeeping. F. Puerta). It must also be taken into account that these products can act at sublethal doses, that is, without actually killing the bees, but interfering with their vital functions, such as, for example, affecting the sense of orientation.

As asked by the Ombudsman, Mr. Manuel Ángel Aguilar Belda, in file number: 07010630, I ask myself, why is it not considered appropriate, in accordance with the Principle of Prevention and in accordance with what was requested by Parliament European * 2, ban or restrict the use of neurotoxic pesticides, at least temporarily or seasonally? … The manufacturers of these products themselves (Bayer and Basf) indicate that they are very dangerous for bees and that their use should be restricted in areas and times of activity of the same. What measures has this Ministerial Department adopted or plans to adopt to regulate and restrict its use in areas and times of foraging of bees?

I am still waiting for an answer from the Ministry of the Environment, Rural and Marine Affairs, to these same questions, are we facing another silent spring * 3, or rather in this case, the silence of the bees?

Luis Torrente Garcia, shepherd of abellas (beekeeper), ecology consultant and member of the Les Agulles ecologist group, federated to Ecologists in Action.

* 2 Motion for a resolution oral question B5-0000 / 2003 presented by Astrid Lulling and Dominique F.C. Souchet in accordance with Article 42 (5) of the Regulation on the difficulties faced by European beekeeping.

* 3 Silent Spring, best-seller that talks about the danger of using DDT and other chemicals used as pesticides, and that founded the foundations of modern environmentalism, by the North American biologist Rachel Carson.

Information sources:

• Dr. Francisco Puerta. Professor of Zoology. Director of the Andalusian Beekeeping Reference Center. University of Cordoba.

• Mr. Nicolás Olea. Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Granada - Head of the Radiology Unit of the Hospital Clínico de Granada.

• Guy Bernelas, veteran French opponent and member of the renowned Encyclopèdie des Nuisances group, author of the book "The Mantle of Medea".

• Xesús Asorey, biologist, technical secretary of the Galician Beekeeping Association (AGA), director of the Casa das abellas in Abegondo.

• University of Coruña. Higher Polytechnic School. Report on the presence of pesticides in the Xubia river basin.

• Galician Beekeeping and Beekeepers Association of Ferrolterra.

• * 1 Andalusian Center for Ecological Beekeeping (Córdoba).

• Videos (“The silence of the bees”):

• Video (AGA):

Video: Whats Killing the Worlds Amphibians? (June 2022).


  1. Demetrius

    Not soon!

  2. Drust

    Yes, I see you are already local here ..

  3. Ahote

    After mine it is the very interesting subject. I offer you to discuss it here or in PM.

  4. Wiatt

    Wonderful, very valuable answer

  5. Maujind

    Yes, sounds it is tempting

  6. Vohn

    .. Seldom.. It is possible to tell, this exception :)

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