More than 500 million bees dropped dead in Brazil in the last three months, mostly as a result of pesticide use.
The pesticides used are said to have contained products which are banned in Europe, such as neonicotinoids and fipronil.
Last April, the EU imposed an near-total ban on neonicotinoids because of the serious harm it could cause to bees, however in the same year Brazil lifted restrictions on pesticides.
According to an investigation by Greenpeace’s Unearthed, the use of pesticides in the country has increased, with 193 products containing chemicals banned in the EU registered in Brazil in the last three years.
Data showed a significant spike in approvals of new environmentally hazardous pesticide products under the governments of Michel Temer and current president Jair Bolsonaro. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, as cited by Bloomberg, Brazil’s pesticide use increased 770 per cent from 1990 to 2016.
Brazil has become the biggest buyer of pesticides in the world; the country uses them because its economy is reliant on agriculture.
A half billion bees dying in Brazil and all the other disasters happening to our environment and it all boils down to someone's greed. Corporations need to be called out and ties to politicians need to be severed. Why is it so hard for people not to be complete assholes?
— Jimmy Palmiotti (@jpalmiotti) August 20, 2019
However, almost half of all products approved since Bolsonaro took office reportedly contain active ingredients featured on Pesticide Action Network’s (PAN) list of highly hazardous pesticides, indicating they pose a risk to human health or the environment.
Brazil’s health watchdog Anvisa reportedly found 20 per cent of samples contained pesticide residues above permitted levels, or contained unauthorised pesticides.
Greenpeace report there are concerns the widespread use of pesticides in the country could have major consequences for the country’s wildlife and environment.
The mass deaths were reported by beekeepers in four Brazilian states. According to Bloomberg, 400 million bees were found dead in Rio Grande do Sul alone, while seven million were found in São Paulo, 50 million in Santa Catarina and 45 million Mato Grosso do Sul.
Lab research points to pesticides as the main cause of death for most of the bees in Brazil.
Aldo Machado, vice president of Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul beekeeping association, told Bloomberg his colony was decimated in less than 48 hours after some of the bees first showed signs of illness.
As soon as the healthy bees began clearing the dying bees out of the hives, they became contaminated. They started dying en masse.
500,000,000 bees died in Brazil this year, with most showing traces of Fipronil, an insecticide banned in the EU and a possible human carcinogen according to US EPA
— Assaad Razzouk (@AssaadRazzouk) August 20, 2019
Bees play a vital part in the food chain, with around one-third of the food we eat relying on pollination mainly by bees.
The bee population is suffering worldwide as a result of habitat loss and climate change as well as pesticides.
In the past year in the US beekeepers lost four in 10 of their honeybee colonies, mass deaths have been reported in 20 regions in Russia and at least one million bees died in South Africa in November 2018 as a result of fipronil, BBC News reports.
Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Turkey have all also reported mass die-offs of bees in the last 18 months.
The declining bee population is a major worry for agriculture and world wide food security. Bees pollinate 80% of our flowering crops and a Cornell University study estimated that honeybees pollinate $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the U.S annually. #WorldHoneyBeeDay pic.twitter.com/xMFunQSLG0
— Mike McGuire (@ilike_mike) August 18, 2019
The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) says unused land should be managed to better safeguard bee populations and more urban green spaces should be developed to protect bees.
More locally, Heifer International offer a list of ways individuals can help the bee population, such as allowing dandelions and clovers to grow in gardens without being mowed down, planting an array of herbs and flowers and avoiding pesticides and herbicides.
WWF point out restoring bee populations is possible but it is a task which will require many changes, including reversing fragmentation of wild flower meadows, reducing the effects of chemical pollution, protecting bees from imported diseases and taking targeted action to bring endangered species back from the brink.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.