On the 27th of April, the EU introduced a total ban on the use of three out of seven common neonicotinoid insecticides: Bayer’s imidacloprid and clothianidin, and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam, on the grounds that they are poisonous to Europe’s native bee population.
So the campaign to save the bees has been well and firmly won, right? Well maybe not so much. The bee species most endangered by pesticides, alongside other threats such as killer mites and colony collapse disorder, is the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera). While it is European in name, the European Honey Bee can be found in nearly every continent, so does the ban based solely in the EU have any major effect on the risks this important little bee faces day to day?
Well the National Farmers union opposed the new regulations, as they believe it will just result in an increase of imports from countries where regulation is less stringent. Union spokesperson Chris Hartfield says: “We're not decreasing our consumption of [these] products; we are just importing it from outside Europe, where it is often treated with neonicotinoids.” So, has the regulation just passed the buck on saving the bees to countries just outside the EU with looser farming restrictions? Well, frankly, yes. Bees are in danger worldwide, with populations of both farmed and wild bees dropping dramatically, due to a multitude of causes. At this stage, experts demand that we need to improve the environment wherein bees collect food or risk losing them, and approximately 75% of all agricultural produce, forever.
So, all this may have you asking “How can I, a humble consumer of food, help nurture a farming sector that is as accommodating to the ailing Apis mellifera as possible?” Well the answer seems to lie in cultivating a market for organic, EU-based, foodstuffs that are farmed in close proximity throughout the EU. Bee activists already recommend that the public fill their gardens with bee-friendly vegetation, so why should the agricultural sector not aim to do the same? Alas, you say, I am a humble city-slicker who finds their food on the supermarket shelf as opposed to the market garden, I would need some sort of list of commonplace products that, while being kind to bees, can be bought immediately from my local super-store. Where could I find such a litany? Well have no fear, for here is a list of farmed vegetation that provide not only delicious food for us, but for hungry bees as well!
Canola Oil – Rapeseed, from which canola oil is extracted, is one of the crops set to be affected most by the EU’s latest regulation. Commercial rapeseed was particularly controversial for its use of bee-killing neonicotinoids as it is one of the largest flowering commercial crops around, making it a perfect target for pollen-hungry bees. Increasing demand for European rapeseed will firstly reduce the chance of suppliers going abroad for unregulated ingredients for canola oil. Also, pure canola oil is a fantastic alternative to generic “vegetable oils,” of which canola is usually an ingredient, alongside the environmentally catastrophic palm oil which is best avoided at all costs.
Apples – Realistically, any fruit trees will be a delight to both you and bee. However, bees need a source of food no matter what the season, so be sure to demand a variety of different apples as each sub-species flowers at a different point throughout the year. So why not leave Granny Smith on the sidelines for once and crunch into a delicious Devonshire Quarrenden, a Michaelmas Red, or, if you’re feeling saucy, a Mère de Ménage.
Cherries – As above, fruit trees are ideal for both bees and humans as they not only flower, feeding bees, they produce delicious fruit, feeding humans. Cherry trees are good for bees as they flower excessively, all over the plant, and are large allowing the maximum number of bees get fed. Cherry trees bloom throughout the summer and can grow to a height of nine metres. Filled with antioxidants and natural anti-inflammatories, why just put a cherry on top when you can make them the star of your menu!
Dandelion – A favourite among children who like blowing on things in exchange for wishes, this oft-ignored plant is frequently labelled a weed. Dandelion tea is incredibly in vogue among health fanatics across the world, as it is known to detoxify the liver and aid weight loss. The prevalence of this flower makes it a firm favourite with bees, so spread those seeds far and wide. Be wary though, some people are allergic to the root of this little flower, and it is known to interact in unexpected ways with certain medications.
Peonies, Hyacinths, Willows - Now we know these are not food, which will annoy many of our readers who do not value things that are not made for putting in the mouth, but these flowers are proven to be beloved by bees. So give these bad boys a plant in your garden and watch the drones come swarming. And if you really want to blaze a trail and show solidarity with bee-kind, why not eat them anyway? They are not toxic and probably taste as good, if not better, than kale.
So, there you have it, go forth and feast knowing that Europe’s honey-makers are satisfied and safe. And if this neoliberal “voting-with-your-euros” approach is not to your taste, why not write to large scale distributors such as supermarkets and tell them that you no longer want their enmasse support of suppliers who do not comply with EU regulations. Or even better, write to your local MEP to push for the restriction of the remaining four neonicotinoids still legal for outdoor use in the European Union, and confirm that all the food you eat is as safe for bees as it is for you.