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24 June 2009

Bees “restored to health” in Italy after this spring’s neonicotinoid-free maize sowing

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During this year’s neonicotinoid-free maize sowing in Italy hardly a bee colony has been lost, bar a suspicious case where some leftover seed from last year may have been used

It does look like a resounding, spectacular success. During this year’s neonicotinoid-free maize sowing in Italy hardly a bee colony has been lost, bar a suspicious case where some leftover seed from last year may have been used.

The ban on the insecticide-soaked seed coating enforced by the Italian government last year seems to have worked wonders, judging from the freshest data collected on the ground by researchers, beekeepers and regional authorities alike.

Giacomo Michelatti, expert of the Piedmont Region in Italy, considers: “At this point of corn sowing this year you can more than reasonably say that there were no cases of widespread bee mortality in the apiaries surrounding maize crops, as we had seen again and again, worryingly, back in 2008. Yet, the honey producers’organisation “Aspromiele” has reported only one case of disappearance of an entire bee colony at Luserna San Giovanni in the province of Turin to the authorities in charge. In this instance it was not possible for us to analyze the bees, because they have not been found, either dead or alive. Suspicions remain on the maize crops in the immediate vicinity, where neonicotinoid-coated leftover maize seed from last year may have been used”.

Moreno Greatti, from the University of Udine, states :“Over here in Friuli Venezia Giulia (Italy’s North-East, Ed.) and in the other maize-growing areas in Northern Italy bee hives have not suffered depopulation and mortality coinciding with maize sowing this year. To this day, bee colonies are well populated by these precious insects. Beekeepers from Northern Italy and all over the country are unanimous in recognizing that the suspension of neonicotinoid- and fipronil-coated maize seeds needs to be thanked and praised for this. Even in Germany and France, in a similar context, bees have been “restored to health”. In our region during March and April 2009 no cases of bee mortality were reported at all to the Regional Bee Laboratory. This had not been happening since 1999!  This year, in 10 beehives located here and there in our region, the same Laboratory has been monitoring for dead bees by putting them into special containers. This has been carried out between March and the beginning of May, to cover the period of maize sowing. They have not found out any differences between the hives located near maize fields, before, during and after sowing."

Although varroasis and other pathologies are found at other times of the year, the suspension of neurotoxic insecticides in seed coating has made the situation patently better.

Francesco Panella, President of the Italian Association of Beekepers, says: “On behalf of beegrowers working in a countryside dominated by maize crops, I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture to confirm the great news, for once: thanks to the suspension of the bee-killing seed coating, the hives in the Po Valley are flourishing again. We cannot underestimate that there are over one million hectares of maize crops, predominantly in Northern Italy, which means one crop out of every seven which are grown every year in our country. This year’s magnificent and unusual spring growth of bee colonies means a very good production of acacia honey in Northern Italy. We are now anxious to ensure that the temporary ban of neonicotinoid seed coating becomes definitive. Over the past few days we got news of devastating cases of bee mortality in some citrus groves of Southern Italy, which had been sprayed with one neonicotinoid."

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