They came to speak for the bees.
Ahead of an expected EU vote on Monday that will determine a possible ban on a class of pesticides that scientists say are killing off the continents' bees and other pollinators, a coalition of beekeepers, conservationists, gardeners, and environmental activists marched on Parliament in London on Friday as a way to urge the UK to join other European nations in supporting the ban.
Yellow and black dominated the scene as many in attendance dressed as bees, wore their apiary suits and carried signs that read "Like Food? Love Bees" and "No to Neonic," referring to pesticide class called neonicotinoids that a number of recent studies have tied directly to the decline of bee populations.
The organizers of the so-called "March of the Beekeepers" included Avaaz, Friends of the Earth, Buglife, Environmental Justice Foundation, Greenpeace, Pesticide Action Network UK, Soil Association and the group 38 Degrees.
"Ministers can't ignore the growing scientific evidence linking neonicotinoid insecticides to bee decline," said Friends of the Earth's campaigns director Andrew Pendleton. "Their claims to be concerned about bee health will ring hollow if they fail to back European moves to restrict the use of these chemicals."
He continued: "If we lose our bees and other vital pollinators it'll have a devastating impact on our food, gardens and environment. We urgently need tougher pesticide restrictions and a British Bee Action Plan to tackle all the threats they face."
Underlining the urgency of the threat on Friday, Greenpeace's Graham Patterson issued a stark warning: "This is not abstract theorizing. Bees are dying out. Now."
In the US, bee numbers have halved in the last few decades, with a 30% decline in the last five years. Several countries in Europe have suffered similar declines, with nearly 80% of Spanish hives lost.
This is, at least in part, due to a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD), where the worker bees from a hive mysteriously disappear. There’s general agreement that CCD is caused by combination of factors including the varroa mite (a bee parasite), disease, monocultural farming and weather impacts exacerbated by climate change. The disagreement comes over whether pesticides, and particularly neonicotinoids, are a contributing factor.
And as the Guardian reports:
Bees and other wild insects such as moths, ladybirds and hoverflies, pollinate three-quarters of all food crops, but have been in serious decline in recent decades. Scientific research published in the world's most prestigious journals is increasingly linking neonicotiniods, the world's most widely used insecticides, to severe harm to bee colonies. The chemical industry, which makes billions a year from their products, insist their products are safe and banning them would harm food production.
Those chemical companies, led by firms Syngenta and Bayer, are fighting aggressively against the pending EU vote, as the Center for Media & Democracy's Rebekah Wilce recently documented.
Private letters recently obtained and released by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) reveal that Bayer and Syngenta have engaged in furious lobbying against these measures. [...]
In the wake of EFSA's and the European Commission's recommendations and the subsequent failure of the European Member States to reach a qualified majority to put the ban in place effective July 2013, Bayer and Syngenta then launched what CEO called a "charm offensive to be seen as part of the solution rather than of the problem." For Syngenta, this consists of an upgrade of its PR sting "Operation Pollinator," in which the company proposes to provide payments to a few farmers to grow strips of flowers and other plants attractive to bees alongside their neonicotinoid-treated crops.
Paul de Zylva, also from Friends of the Earth, points out that claims that neonicotinoids "are safe" are claims with no basis in scientific review. "It's notable," he said, "that the words of ministers and civil servants sound just like those from the pesticides industry."
As Wilce notes in her reporting, support for the pesticide ban varies from country to country, but many expect the ban to pass based on a growing public opposition and consensus from the scientific evidence. That support, however, has not been cleary seen in the UK.
Pushing to create that that political will, of course, is the whole basis of the protest in London today and those coming to the defense of the bees and other pollinators declared the support of over 2.6 million people who signed a global petition supportive of the ban, with a stated goal of attracting 3 million.
The language of that petition follows:
Quietly, globally, billions of bees are dying, threatening our crops and food. But in days the European Union could ban the most poisonous pesticides, and pave the way to a global prohibition that would save bees from extinction.
Four EU countries have begun banning these poisons, and some bee populations are already recovering. Weeks ago the official European food safety watchdog stated for the first time that certain pesticides are fatally harming bees. Now legal experts and European politicians are calling for an immediate ban. But, Bayer and other giant pesticide producers are lobbying hard to keep them on the market. If we build a huge swarm of public outrage now, we can push the European Union to put our health and our environment before the profit of a few.
We know our voices count! Last year, our 1.2 million strong petition forced US authorities to open a formal consultation on pesticides -- now if we reach 3 million, we can persuade the EU to get rid of these crazy poisons and pave the way for a ban worldwide. Sign the urgent petition and share this with everyone -- Avaaz will deliver our message ahead of the key vote next week in Brussels.