News - April 19, 2011

Bee research on pesticides goes ahead

Wageningen is going to go ahead with research on the role of pesticides in bee deaths after all. The Ministry of EL&I is making extra funding available.

The research will be coordinated by Wageningen researcher Tjeerd Blacquière. Utrecht researcher Jeroen van der Sluijs, who believes there may be a strong connection between pesticides and bee deaths, will be on the steering committee.

The research will focus on neonicotinoids, a group of pesticides which are used to combat insect plagues in the fruit and vegetable sectors. Neonicotinoids are strong insecticides which are poisonous for bees as well. The Dutch Centre for Bee Research (NCB) is going to take samples of the bee populations in hives at places where there are high bee death rates, and study the concentrations of neonicotinoids in them. Sjef van Steen, a colleague of Blacquière's at Plant Research International, plans to feed bee populations with sugars containing low doses of neonicotinoids and then monitor their vitality and the survival rate over the winter.

'It is an expansion of our research plan', says Blacquière. He submitted a plan last year for extensive research on bee deaths, with a budget of one million euros. The plan was approved but once VAT had been deducted and some of the budget allocated to research on wild bees, there was only half a million left - not enough to research the neonicotinoids as well as other topics. This was one of the reasons the research has focused largely on the biggest suspects in relation to the bee deaths: the varroa mite and an intestinal parasite (nosema). But with mounting concern about the possible role of pesticides, the ministry has asked the researchers to look into this possible cause as well. 'This happened before the Zembla programme', says the project leader, referring to a television programme that suggested this line of research had been neglected.

Blacquière thinks it is a good thing that the critical Van der Sluijs will be involved in the research. 'Then we researchers can fight it out, as to how you can measure and demonstrate a link between pesticides and the deaths in the bee populations.' That link has not yet been proven, says Blacquière, pointing to studies in Germany and the US. 'I am curious to see what our study will come up with.'