A few weeks ago, great news! The European Union banned three ‘bee killers’ – neonicotinoid pesticides. Three neonics with the, er, catchy names clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. The ban will come into force on 1st December this year, and it will last only for two years, so let’s not get complacent.
The bee-killing story doesn’t end with neonics. It’s also about another insecticide called fipronil. This one isn’t a neonic, it’s a phenylpyrazole.
Like the neonics, fipronil is a broad-spectrum insecticide. That means it kills all kinds of insects – ‘good bugs’ as well as ‘bad bugs’. It’s a neurotoxin, attacking the insects’ nervous systems. In fact it can attack other organisms too. Here’s some science from a decade ago, telling us how fipronil can be bad news.
This week the European Food Safety Authority said that scientists there are concerned about fipronil. They’re concerned about ‘dust drift’ when seeds are drilled into fields. They’re concerned also about pollen and nectar, which honeybees and wild bees are likely to forage. Due to that focus on flower parts, concern about fipronil is mostly about maize (Zea mays, sometimes called corn) and about sunflowers (Helianthus annuus).
Z. mays and H. annuus are grown here in Britain. In parts of continental Europe, where weather is relatively warm, those great crops really come into their own. Now that climates are changing we might see more of those crops here. Nobody forgets Claude Monet’s painting ‘Bouquet of Sunflowers’ but if we lose the bees, we’ll lose the sunflowers too.
I’m grateful to my fellow blogger Abigail Schindler at Science Politics for drawing attention to the concern about fipronil. Here’s what Damian Carrington at the Guardian says about the start of fipronil controversy.