Food producers urged to protect bees from damaging fungicides

Bee populations are being indirectly harmed by fungicides according to new research. Image courtesy of Flickr - cygnus921
Bee populations are being indirectly harmed by fungicides according to new research. Image courtesy of Flickr - cygnus921

New research has shown a link between the use of fungicides on crops and the decline of wild bee populations.

A recently study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin Department of Entomology’s Steffan Lab showed that bee colonies are negatively affected by the use of fungicides.

Unlike pesticides such as neonicotinoids, which are known to directly affect bees, the impact of fungicides appears to be more indirect.

“Bumble bee colonies exposed to fungicide produced fewer workers, lower total bee biomass, and had lighter mother queens than control colonies,” explained the University of Wisconsin study.

This new research is significant to the development of sustainable agricultural practices, as it was previously thought that fungicides were harmless to bee populations.

A second study, this time by University of North Dakota backs this up, following an independent investigation into the effects of pesticides and fungicides on bees.

“A significant contribution of fungicides to observed pesticide effects suggests deleterious properties of a class of pesticides that was, until recently, considered benign to bees,” their study explains.

Currently bee populations are suffering above average mortality rates to due a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

“This phenomenon […] labelled ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD) and seems to have caused damages for more than 400 million Euros in the US alone,” explains Giovanni Formato from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO).

Fungicides may be one of several factors which are causing this.

Farmers and governments urged to take action

One significant finding of this recent research was that fungicides are more harmful to bee populations when they are applied to during the blooming of crops.

Hannah Gaines-Day one of the authors of the University of Wisconsin study believes that part of this harm could be mitigated through the selective application of fungicides to avoid these critical periods.

“Farmers could apply fungicides pre- or post- bloom to avoid putting bees in contact with the chemicals. Unfortunately fungal pressure and bloom often times happen at the same time,” she explains.

She also believes that governments could take action in the form of regulation in order to help protect bees from the threat posed by fungicides.

“Mounting evidence, including the results of our study, suggest that fungicides are having a detrimental effect on bees. This should at least bring the issue to the attention and concern of governmental agencies who regulate other agricultural chemicals,” she said.

Despite this however, the UNFAO does not yet recommend bans these substances.

“At this point in time FAO is not advocating for restrictions on the use of a given pesticide or fungicide that is both in widespread commercial use and  is “known” to cause harm to bee populations.” said Giovanni Formato