Bee colonies are under attack from the misuse of bee-toxic pesticides yet honey seems to be abundant in T&T because of thriving contraband trade.
The cheap, low-quality honey comes from Venezuela, Grenada and other Caribbean islands and has been described as one of the most lucrative contraband trades in the country, according to industry experts.
But while law enforcement agencies investigate, very few honey smugglers have been charged and very little testing has been done to determine whether honey smuggled into the country is safe for consumption.
Officials from the T&T Beekeepers’ Association are urging the authorities to help save bee colonies by banning the use of bee-toxic pesticides.
In an interview, public relations officer of the T&T’s Beekeepers’ Association Vearna Gloster said bees assist in pollination and are an integral part of the agriculture industry.
As a third generation crop farmer and first generation beekeeper, Gloster said she has noticed the decline of bee colonies for the past 14 years.
“I have been observing the ups and downs of the industry and the many challenges faced by beekeepers with both the influx of illegal honey and death of bees due to the many pesticides and weedicides used by crop farmers,” she said.
Gloster said the pesticides used in yesteryears had no impact to bee colonies yet today, thousands of bees are dying.
“In 2006 when a newly-established apiary was just a stone’s throw away from the crops, there were absolutely no bee deaths to our colonies. In contrast today, we have crop farmers and beekeepers in close proximity due to lead space and/or land sharing and we find that there are many deaths to bee colonies. Hence, we are in a dire need to bridge the gap between crop farmers and beekeepers to lobby for the need for more bee-friendly pesticides in our country,” she added.
Gloster said, “The larger nations are banning the use of those neonicotinoid ‘cides’ which were wreaking havoc among their bee colonies but we are somehow being affected by it now.”
She called on the Ministry of Agriculture to stop the trend of registering bee-toxic pesticides.
“They may be cheaper and bring in the better crop sprays but in the long run they will hurt the agricultural sector,” Gloster said.
She noted that crop farmers and beekeepers can work together to help to make the environment healthier for all.
With regard to the influx of illegal honey, Gloster said, T&T’s beekeepers were suffering because a cheaper version of honey is now being sold in supermarkets, health stores and on the roadsides.
Under a 1947 Act of Parliament, honey from abroad is banned from being imported into T&T. Gloster said this protects bees from disease as well as protects the local honey trade but with the influx of illegal honey, those in the apiculture business are suffering.
Constant surveillance of
Minister of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources, Clarence Rambharat said a review of the chemicals and pesticides imported into the country will be undertaken via the pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board.
“There is constant surveillance of the illegal trade in honey by Customs and Excise, Ministry of Health, Public Health Division and the Animal Production and Health Division of the Ministry. Consumers are always reminded to purchase honey from registered apiaries,” Rambharat said.
Asked whether the illegal honey was being tested, Rambharat said, “The Chemistry Food and Drug Division of the Ministry of Health is the entity responsible for the testing of food products for food safety.”
He said Plant Quarantine (PQ) is a support service to the Customs and Excise Division and it assists Customs in the examination of containers which are known to contain agriculture products.
“PQ officers are also based at the main ports and airports to provide support in the identification, seizure and destruction of illegal agriculture products. There are sufficient PQ officers to provide this support,” he added.
Neonicotinoid pesticides have been killing off bee colonies and birds but are deemed the most effective in the control of pests.
They are called neonicotinoid because they contain nicotine-like chemicals which act on the nervous systems of insects.
Imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid chemical, is widely used in agriculture to exterminate pests.
The neonicotinoid family includes acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam but imidacloprid is the most widely used insecticide in the world.
Neonicotinoid use has been linked in a range of studies to adverse ecological effects, including honey-bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) and loss of birds due to a reduction in insect populations.
The typical levels of neonicotinoids found in agricultural areas kill bees and hurt their ability to reproduce.
Recent studies by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have confirmed the risk to bees and is now banned in Europe.