Labelling in spotlight at bee workshop

* These beehives off Rathfelder Road have not been affected.

CropLife SA has asked for an emergency label amendment to remove the sugar as lure from the instructions on two products believed to be responsible for the recent death of 4.5 million bees in the Constantia Valley.

This according to CropLife operations manager, Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, at a workshop organised by the Western Cape Bee Industry Association (WCBIA), on Friday December 7, hosted by Buitenverwachting (“Farmers unite to solve bee deaths”, Bulletin, November 29).

The Bulletin asked to attend the workshop but was denied. It was attended by wine farmers, agri-chemical companies, researchers from the Agricultural Research Council, the Department of Agriculture, the City of Cape Town, CropLife SA and about 10 beekeepers.

Some of the commercial beekeepers had found dead bees in front of their beehives last month.

Vice-chairman of WCBIA, Brendan Ashley Cooper of Westlake, said initial lab results identified insecticide Fipronil (Regent), a pesticide which had been banned in the European Union since September last year. Further results of samples of dead bees from representative Constantia sites positively identified two insecticides, Fipronil and Lambda-cyhalothrin. These had been mixed with molasses and or sugar and applied to the base of the vines to keep ants away.

However, the Wine and Spirit Board said it is illegal and punishable by law to use molasses as a bait because it has an odour that attracts bees.

Carryn Wiltshire, spokesperson for the Constantia Wine Route, said Fipronil was widely used across the industry with no damaging effect to bee hives.

The Constantia farmers have immediately terminated the use of Fipronil after beekeepers suspected this product to be harmful.

Dr Verdoorn said chemical analysis did not test for carbohydrates such as sugar or molasses as it was immaterial in the poisoning effects. “Even if the bees did not ingest the pesticides that affected them they would have tested positive for sucrose, glucose and fructose, the three natural sugars found in molasses,” said Dr Verdoorn.

He added that Fipronil found in consumer control products in bait traps for cockroaches were not attractive to bees and there was zero chance that such products would affect bees.

In a media release issued after the workshop, Elriza Theron, marketing and communications manager of CropLife SA, said biological pest management in local vineyards had great success. Among these was mealybug, which is something of the past after the successful deployment of biological control. She said ants, however, upset these efforts by fighting off biological organisms. None of the stakeholders wants to see ant nests completely destroyed as they play an important role in the agricultural ecology.

Compensation was not discussed at the workshop. Dr Tlou Masehela, chairman of WCBIA , said: “This could cause friction. The objectives were to identify the cause of the bee deaths and to agree on mitigation measures to prevent such a catastrophe from occurring again,” he said.

Beekeepers say the incident means a cut of 4.5 to 5 tons of honey from the harvest this year. Dr Masehela said it would take more than one year for the bees to recover and this would be dependent on foraging and splitting – which refers to creating a second bee colony.

Lawrence Woollam a commercial beekeeper from Zandvlei, lost many bee hives at his apiary in Soetvlei in Constantia Hills. He is disappointed that there has not been agreement for compensation (or an apology). “What is missing from the debate is that while bees are considered important, bee farmers are not. We’re dependent on other land-use farmers to host our hives. Some farms contract beekeepers for pollination but wine farms don’t need bees for pollination of grapes,” said Mr Woollam.