Chemicals 'kill 90bn French bees'
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
French beekeepers say about 90 billion of their insects have been killed over the last 10 years by a
The chemical, used on crops including maize and sunflowers, damages the bees' sense of direction so they
It is used in the UK on several crops, though not in exactly the way it is used in France, and British
beekeepers have been urged to be on their guard.
UK apiarists say the value of bees to the agricultural economy is immense, and they fear bees are
The chemical implicated in the loss of French bees is imidacloprid, marketed under a variety of names
It is slowly released in the plants, protecting them against insect attack by destroying their ability
to find their way.
A London newspaper, the Observer, reported: "Almost immediately after the chemicals were introduced 10
years ago, beekeepers reported that their bees were becoming disoriented and dying.
Used in UK
"Within a few years honey production in south-west France fell by 60%. According to the chairman of the
national beekeepers' association, Jean-Marie Sirvins, a third of the country's 1.5 million registered
"As a result, France has had to import up to 24,000 tons of honey annually." The pesticide companies say
their products are not responsible for killing the bees.
There are no reports of any ill effects from applications of imidacloprid in the UK, where it is
licensed for use on beet.
There are restrictions on its use when the plants are in flower, or for spraying the foliage.
But Richard Jones, the director of the International Bee Research Association, told BBC News Online:
"Beekeepers here have to be on the alert.
"The varroa mite, which feeds on the bees' blood, arrived from mainland Europe, and we know that bees'
nests can travel a long way on container ships.
"People hear about bees and think only about honey, but it's the other side of the problem that's
"They add billions of pounds to the value of the agricultural economy every year because of their work
in pollinating crops like apples.
"We don't have enough bees in the UK, and we have very few feral bees. Every time a hedgerow is
destroyed, that means the loss of nesting places for bumblebees."