There has been alot of information recently about the association of pesticides and bee deaths. However, there has been very little information about this phenomenon in Australia.
There have been some suggestions that a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids are the major factor in bee deaths associated with pesticides in Australia. Whilst neonicotinoids are definately a major issue with bee deaths, another insecticide, Fipronil has actually been associated with more publicly reported bee deaths in Australia, than neonicotinoids.
A search for bees on FoE's Australian Pesticide Map, reveals that Fipronil has been behind more bee deaths. Albeit, the number of bee death records recorded on the website are low, it is an impossible task to try and determine the exact number of bee deaths due to pesticide application in Australia.
Part of the problem, lies with the secrecy of bee industry and a reluctance to speak openly about pesticide concerns, costs associated with testing if hives are damaged, public relations campaigns on behalf of agri-business interests, but perhaps a far greater problem is that in Australia:
“There are no regulations in place in Australia that require biocide information to be reported and there are no government or private bodies who have responsibility for monitoring biocide application.”
This means that in terms on pesticide impacts on non-target species such as bees, noone in Australia is sure what is being sprayed where and in what volumes. If bees are impacted and the problem was deemed to be pesticides, where has the spray come from and when did the spraying occur? Who is legally responsible, particularly if a number of farmers are using the same sprays or if the farmer is using seeds treated with systemic pesticides?
Fipronil is registered for use on a variety of crops such as Asparagus, Bananas, Brassicas, Cotton, Forestry Plantations, Ginger, Grapevines, Pastures/Sorghum, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Mushroom, Sugarcane, Swede and Turnips. It is also registered for use as an ant (incl. Fire Ants) and termite killer and used on a variety of turf applications including golf courses.
In June 2019, Fipronil was linked to the deaths of 10 million bees near Griffith in New South Wales. According to a local apiarist:
"One drop of this poison from one bee that takes it back to the hive will then kill the whole hive"
Both Fipronil and the neonicotinoid class of pesticides are systemic pesticides, meaning that they are absorbed into the plant and absorbed by the tissue. An insect eating the plant dies after eating from the plant. Fipronil is also a contact pesticide, meaning it can kill an insect on contact.
Systemic pesticides readily translocates to pollen, nectar, guttation drops, and all tissues of the treated crops and adjacent plants, impacting on nectar-feeding biota such as bees, butterflies, hoverflies and parasitic wasps.
Guttational drops laced with systemic pesticides can kill bees and other insects
The neonicotinoid Imidacloprid has a Half Life in Soil of 1000 days and is highly mobile. U.S. Research has determined that only 5% of the insecticide is retained in the plant. Where does the rest go? Fipronil has a half life in soil of 3 months and has a short half life in water.
Neonicotinoid sales have significantly increased since 1990’s as replacements to carbamate and organophosphates (U.S. Data in Graph). Is it any wonder that bee death reports in the United States started increasing in 2007?
The cause of bee deaths is complex with many causes.
Bees are susceptible to "sublethal stressors" — factors that don't kill the bees directly but can hamper their behaviour.
Diesel fumes and some pesticides can also reduce/ damage bee’s cognition.
Apart from bringing about multiple sub-lethal effects that reduce the foraging ability of worker bees, neonicotinoid and fipronil insecticides equally impair the reproductive performance of queens and drones, thus compromising the long term viability of entire colonies.
If agriculture in Australia is ever to become sustainable, it needs to reduce agro-chemical inputs, such as Neonicotinoids and Phenyl-Pyrazoles, such as Fipronil to a minimum.