Insect spraying: save the bees!

Published in Poisons Beware

A bee sting can cause a severe allergic reaction in a vulnerable person. Under current Croatian law, insects which cause allergic reactions must be subjected to an annual programme of suppression.

Bumble-bee at work Bumble-bee at work Photo: Vivian Grisogono

A bee sting can even be fatal. Is that a reason for bees to be suppressed, their breeding grounds and habitats destroyed? Current Croatian law appears to say yes.

The Croatian Law for Protecting the Population Against Transmissible Diseases was passed in September 19921. It presented a list of 62 diseases of special concern, and the various measures for dealing with them. It covered issues such as immunizations, quarantine, border controls, and special measures in case of epidemics. Preventive actions included compulsory disinfection, insect suppression and rodent elimination. A separate document entitled 'Directive governing the implementation of the compulsory disinfection, insect suppression and rodent elimination measures' was issued in March 20072. It stated: "insect suppression measures are various methods used, with the aim of reducing an insect population at least to a threshold level; they prevent growth and an increase in the insect numbers, or completely eliminate the targeted population of harmful insects..." (Article 2, Clause 9).

Pollinator at work. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The Law itself, which was updated in 20073, focusses purely on transmissible diseases (Article II, Clause 3). By 2014, the list of diseases had expanded to 994. The Directive, which was updated in 2012, lists six types of insect as disease vectors: mosquitoes, sandflies, flies, fleas, lice and ticks. But it goes way beyond these with six more categories of 'harmful' insects to be suppressed: those which can 'transmit micro-organisms mechanically' such as cockroaches and ants; parasites such as lice; 'poisonous arthropods', including black widow spiders, wasps, hornets, horse-flies and centipedes; 'warehouse pests' such as moths, beetles and mites; pests 'important for aesthetic or public health reasons', such as springtails, woodlice, earwigs and crickets; and 'insects which cause allergic reactions', including pigeons, swallows, moths such as the pine processionary and brown-tail moths, paederus beetles, house-mites, dust-mites and poultry-mites5 (Article 2, Clause 10).

Even though bees are not included in the official list of 'enemy insects', they definitely qualify in the allergy category. They are not on the target list, but they are still on the front line as things stand.

Bee with hibiscus, on the front line? Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Pollinators are essential

There is widespread concern about the loss of bees, with some types even listed as endangered6. Pesticides are implicated in the decline. Measures are suggested to protect bees, especially honey bees7, but total protection is impossible, especially when insecticides are used on a large scale.

Many of the world's crops depend on pollinators. Honey bees are not the only crop pollinators, and domesticated honey bees cannot cover all the needs for agricultural pollination8. Apart from bees, there are many other pollinators of different kinds9. Pollinator diversity, besides creating a healthier environment, can increase crop yields10. A lack or loss of animal pollinators can have damaging consequences for human health11, 12. Protection of pollinators is therefore a vital part of crop security13.

Insecticides are harmful poisons

Chemical poisons can never be 'safe'. Even when they do not kill, they inevitably cause damage. When applied indiscriminately on a large scale, they cause collateral damage to non-target victims. All insects have some part in the natural chain. Insect loss is an increasing problem14. Interfering with the natural chain causes unexpected harm. For instance, insecticides based on Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) have been found to reduce reproduction in birds15, The research focussed on house martins, which are feared to be in decline in some parts of the world. Bti insecticides are considered to be a low-risk alternative to chemical pesticides16. They are commonly used for the larvicidal programme on Hvar. However, repeated applications may cause a loss of biodiversity, and certain formulations of Bti pesticides may even be harmful to humans17. For an overview of the possible adverse effects of commonly used insecticides in Croatia, please click here.

House martins. By Ómar Runólfsson [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The 2012 Directive states that "chemical methods of insect suppression are carried out only when other preventive methods have failed to prevent an uncontrolled increase in harmful arthropods" (Article 2, Clause 12). In practice, throughout Croatia chemical poisons are the method of choice for insect suppression. Local authorities receive annual directives from the National18 and County19 Public Health Offices as the basis for their insect suppression programme. There are some regional variations, according to local conditions and finances. In general, larvicidal actions, which aim to eliminate breeding grounds and hatching insects, extend from April to October. In summer, there may be several poison sprayings to kill off adult insects, particularly mosquitoes. On Hvar and elsewhere this is usually done by 'fogging', the practice of spraying a poison mist from a moving vehicle. In some places it used to be done by aerial spraying: this was limited in the 2007 Directive to exclude aeroplanes flying over inhabited settlements, national parks and other protected areas (Article I, Clause 14), and not mentioned at all in the 2012 Directive (Article I, Clause 13).

From 'Glas Slavonije', April 2014, happily, aerial spraying is no longer allowed.

Safe poisons? Impossible.

The current practice of insect suppression using chemical means, especially through 'fogging', assumes that the chemicals used only affect the target insects, do not spread in the environment, do not last longer than it takes to apply them, and are otherwise safe. None of this is true. Apart from Bti formulations, pyrethroids are the main poison of choice, but on Hvar an organophosphate product was thrown into the fray for good measure in the last couple of years20. Pyrethroids21 are far from safe 22, 23. They are synthetic poisons which must be distinguished from Pyrethrins24, which are based on the extract pyrethrum from chrysanthemum plants, a natural insecticide. Both pyrethrins and pyrethroids can cause adverse health reactions in humans 25,26, and they are extremely toxic to bees27, 28.

The 2012 Directive states that following review of the success of the preventive pest control methods, every second year less pesticides should be used, in order to improve sanitary conditions and reduce the overall emissions of harmful organisms into the natural environment (Article IV, clause 41, 2012).

In practice, insects develop resistance to poisons after repeated applications29. On the island of Madeira, resistance mechanisms were identified30. In Croatia, the tendency has been to use increasingly strong toxins to counteract resistance, contrary to Article IV, clause 41 of the Directive.

Hvar Town's 2017 Programme of Measures for Preventive Pest Control31 is based on the regulations set down by the Split-Dalmatia County Health Office. Apart from Bti for larvicide, it allows for the use of neonicotinoids as an alternative to pyrethroids (article V, clause 3.3). Neonicotinoids have been shown to be particularly harmful to bees 32, 33, 34. The EU partially banned certain neonicotinoids in 2013, and further restrictions were being proposed in 201735.

On Hvar, the toxins used for the summer 'fogging' treatments have increased dramatically in the past few years. In 2012 a combination of two pyrethroids, Permethrin and Cypermethrin, was used. In 2017, the Jelsa Council area was subjected to a cocktail of four pyrethroids and an organophosphate, while Hvar Town's 2017 Programme listed five pyrethroids: Cypermethrin, Deltamethrin, d-Phenothrin, Permethrin and Resmethrin (Article V, Clause 1.2). Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are applied in combination with the synergist Piperonil Butoxide (PBO) (Article V, clause 1.2.1). While active ingredients are named, the actual products used are not. It is known that the formulations of insecticides tend to be more toxic than the active ingredients alone36.. Even the synergist PBO is not inert: besides making the active pyrethroid ingredients more poisonous, it carries toxic dangers of its own37.

Poisons threaten the loveliest insects indiscriminately. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

There is concern about the safety of mixing pesticides into cocktails, as there is minimal regulatory control over the practice38. Scientific overviews of such mixtures are generally vague, and are mainly for two products rather than four or five39. The potential adverse effects of such mixtures are completely unknown. The 2012 Directive states: "during the implementation of compulsory pest suppression measures, it is the duty of the accredited health inspector - to ensure that the pesticide is being used in the concentration and manner prescribed and printed on the declaration of the product according to the Instructions for use of the product, in accordance with the Resolution for the marketing and use of the product as laid down by the relevant body of the National Office, also the inspector must ascertain that the pesticide formulations not only conform to the toxicological profile laid down according to the special regulations, but has also been evaluated for effectiveness on the basis of chemical, physical and biological researches in the Republic of Croatia..." A further duty is "to ensure that the pesticide is included in the Programme of Measures" (Article IV, clause 39).

In relation to 'fogging', the 2012 Directive states "In carrying out compulsory insect suppression measures, every pesticide application must keep the spread to non-target surfaces at the minimum level possible, starting with the choice of pesticides, to the decision on which method to use, and through the actual treatment...in order to reduce unnecessary pesticide spread, applications should be made with less volatile formulations, should use sprays at the right pressure, with appropriate nozzles, also taking into account droplet size. The use of cold fogging (ULV) or thermal fogging should be avoided if localized targeted treatment can achieve a satisfactory result." (Article IV, Clause 45.)

It seems the practice of poison use for insect suppression has gone beyond the safety measures proposed by law.

This is the more worrying, because there is ever-increasing evidence that the commonly used glyphosate herbicides also pose their own threats to bee health. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that on Hvar as elsewhere all over the world, beekeepers are lamenting the visible loss of honeybees. For an overview of the potential harm glyphosate does to bees, please consult the section on 'Bees' in our reference list: Glyphosate Herbicides, Scientific Evidence.  

Precautions and warnings

The poisons used for the insect suppression programmes are clearly dangerous. The Law aims to protect the population against transmissible diseases. The 2012 Directive specifies regulations for protecting workers handling poisons (Article IV, Clause 43), but no specific advice for protecting the public from the pesticides used (Article 1, Clause 3/3). This is perhaps because chemical insecticides were considered to be a last resort, for use only if other preventive methods had failed to prevent an increase in harmful pests (Article I, Clause 12).

Medulin: warning published the evening before 'fogging', 2017.

Hvar Town's 2017 Programme for Compulsory Preventive Pest Suppression states that the public must be informed of adulticide 'fogging' actions and advised of precautionary measures to take, three days beforehand. Accordingly, warning notices are placed on official notice boards, in Croatian only, advising people to close windows and shutters, and beekeepers to close their hives. The actual route of the 'fogging' vehicle is not publicized. In practice, even local people rarely, if ever, see the notices. The several thousand non-Croatian-speaking tourists who are present on Hvar when the 'fogging' takes place are left completely in the dark.

In some parts of Croatia, 'fogging' dates and times are announced without any mention of precautionary measures. On Hvar, the Programme does not specify that the public needs to know about larvicidal actions. Very few people know that these poisonings even happen, never mind when and where.

The Medulin 'fogging' notice, like many, carried a minimum warning to citizens and beekeepers, in Croatian only.

Prevention measures now the greater risk

The diseases which the insect suppression measures are supposed to prevent are rarities in Croatia, especially on the islands. Fatalities from insect-borne diseases are even fewer. West Nile fever40 appears sporadically in Europe, especially among horses and other animals. The virus often shows up on testing, without necessarily causing disease symptoms. In Croatia, West Nile Fever virus was first found in four horses in 2001-0241. Regular monitoring shows that in general very few cases are reported in humans among EU member states42. Human cases in Croatia numbered six in 2012, 20 in 2013, and since then one or two annually43. Dengue Fever was first reported in humans in Croatia in 2007, with six cases between then and 2010, all of which were imported, that is the victims had recently travelled in South-East Asia or South America, where the disease was endemic. The first case contracted within Croatia was in 2010, although testing in 1980 had revealed the presence of the relevant antibodies in healthy people in north-east Croatia, without any reports of actual disease44. Only one other case of Dengue Fever was identified on Pelješac where the first infection had occurred, when testing confirmed the disease after the patient had recovered. Fifteen people from the same area out of 126 tested were positive for Dengue Fever antibodies, but remained healthy. Nevertheless, mosquito control measures for disease prevention were introduced44. Dengue Fever cases have numbered one or two each year up to 2016, peaking at 3 in 2013, all of them apparently imported43.

West Nile and Dengue Fever were two mosquito-borne diseases added to the list of transmissible infections in 2014. To put their figures into context, enterocolitis cases have consistently numbered over 4,000 annually since 2004, with a peak of 13,461/6 in 201643. Cardiovascular diseases were the biggest killers in Croatia in 2016, accounting for 23,190 deaths. By contrast, the total deaths in the same year from transmissible and parasitic diseases, which include a far greater variety than just the mosquito-borne illnesses, numbered 45745.

Thousands of people in Croatia get bitten by mosquitoes each year. Mosquito numbers are not being controlled by current practices. This is in keeping with the experiences of other countries which have recognised the problems, and in some cases actually suffered epidemics of those diseases. In Brazil, in areas where outbreaks of Dengue Fever are frequent, insect resistance to pesticides was found to be hindering attempts to prevent the disease, and alternative methods of controlling vectors were strongly encouraged46. Research from the island of Madeira showed similar problems and conclusions30. In China rice paddies are being treated with alternative methods of insect suppression47. Looking at these examples, one can conclude that a policy of attempted total suppression of mosquitoes will not prevent an epidemic of mosquito-borne diseases, and might even cause greater problems in the longer term.

Scarlet darter dragonfly. Dragonflies are one of the natural predators to mosquitoes. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The insect suppression programme fails to take into account collateral damage to vital pollinators, especially bees. It is also inevitably reducing the natural predators which would help to control mosquito numbers. It is most probably causing damage to the environment, wildlife and human health which may not be evident or provable for many years, if ever, by which time much irreversible harm will have been done.

Current methods are not working, and are out of step with the latest scientific evidence. They are likely doing more harm than good. It is time for Croatia's Law on Protecting the Population from Transmissible Diseases to be updated, along with the Directive for implementation practices. The six extra categories of insect 'pests' added to the 2007 Directive alongside the disease vectors should be removed; non-invasive methods of insect control should be identified and used; and chemical insecticide use should be strictly limited, preferably totally eliminated.

© Vivian Grisogono, MA(Oxon), 2017

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29) Nkya, T.E., Idir Akhouayri, I., Kisinza, W., David, J-P. 2013. Impact of environment on mosquito response to pyrethroid insecticides: Facts, evidences and prospects. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 43: 407-416

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33) Baines, D., Wilton, E., Pawluk, A., de Gorter, M., & Chomistek, N. 2017. Neonicotinoids act like endocrine disrupting chemicals in newly-emerged bees and winter bees. Scientific Reports. 7, Article number 10979.

34) Stanley, D.A., Garratt, M.P.D., Wickens, J.B., Wickens, V.J., Potts, S.G., Raine, N.E. 2015. Neonicotinoid pesticide exposure impairs crop pollination services provided by bumblebees. Nature. Vol. 528, 548-550.

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43) Hrvatski Zavod za javno zdravstvo. 2017. Hrvatski zdravstveno-statistički ljetopis za 2016: 6. Zarazne bolesti u Hrvatskoj u 2016. godini.

44) Gjenero-Margan I, Aleraj B, Krajcar D, Lesnikar V, Klobučar A, Pem-Novosel I, Kurečić-Filipović S, Komparak S, Martić R, Đuričić S, Betica-Radić L, Okmadžić J, Vilibić-Čavlek T, Babić-Erceg A, Turković B, Avšić-Županc T, Radić I, Ljubić M, Šarac K, Benić N, Mlinarić-Galinović G. Autochthonous dengue fever in Croatia, August–September 2010. Euro Surveill. 2011;16(9):pii=19805. 

45) Ćorić, T., Knežević, A.M., Čukelj, P. 2017. Izvješće o umrlim osobama u Hrvatskoj u 2016.godini (Prvi rezultati). Hrvatski Zavod za javno zdravstvo.

46) Aguirre-Obando, O.A., Pietrobon, A.J., Dalla Bona, A.C., Navarro-Silva M.A. 2015. Contrasting patterns of insecticide resistance and knockdown resistance (kdr) in Aedes aegypti populations from Jacarezinho (Brazil) after a Dengue Outbreak. Medical and Veterinary Entomology, Vol 60 (1) 94-100.

47) Hong-xing, X., Ya-jun , Y., Yan-hui, L.,  Xu-song, Z., Jun-ce, T., Feng-xiang, L., Qiang, F., Zhong-xian, L. 2017. Sustainable Management of Rice Insect Pests by Non-Chemical-Insecticide Technologies in China. Rice Science. Vol.24, March 2017, 61-72

Comment received via the Eco Hvar Facebook page:

ZP: It is sad that we persist with pumping more and more poison into our environment when science has determined non-toxic methods are as good without the nasty side effects.
Even in China - see for example
http://www.sciencedirect.com/.../pii/S167263081730001X -  Sustainable Management of Rice Insect Pests by… sciencedirect.com
Or do a search for "non toxic insect control" (26.09.2017., 08:43)

Eco-Hvar Many thanks, I've included the link you gave in the article, a very valuable addition. (26.09.2017., 09:51)

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  • Ranking of countries’ goals shows even EU on course for more than double safe level of warming

    China, Russia and Canada’s current climate policies would drive the world above a catastrophic 5C of warming by the end of the century, according to a study that ranks the climate goals of different countries.

    The US and Australia are only slightly behind with both pushing the global temperature rise dangerously over 4C above pre-industrial levels says the paper, while even the EU, which is usually seen as a climate leader, is on course to more than double the 1.5C that scientists say is a moderately safe level of heating.

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  • ‘The two things I love most are novels and birds, and they’re both in trouble,’ says The Corrections author, one of the world’s most famous birdwatchers

    Birdwatching was once an activity that elicited a sense of mild shame in Jonathan Franzen. The author stalked New York parks with binoculars in hand, rather than on a strap, carefully hiding from view the word “birds” on his field guide. Debonair friends in London recoiled in horror when told of his pastime. Franzen was furtive, almost embarrassed. Now, he is one of the most famous birdwatchers in the world.

    “I totally let my freak flag fly now,” Franzen says as he scans for birds at a community garden near his home in Santa Cruz, California. His phone has an app that deciphers bird sounds. He travels the world to see recondite species. He has written about birds in essays, op-eds and novels.

    “I was so socially unsuccessful in my youth and such a pariah in junior high that I really didn’t want to look like a dork,” says Franzen, the 59-year-old author whose best known works include The Corrections and Freedom. “I got over that. The success started to make me think: ‘Hey, it’s not me who’s got the problem.’”

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  • Undersea forests, bleached and killed by rising ocean temperature, might disappear in a few decades, experts warn

    Children born today may be the last generation to see coral reefs in all their glory, according to a marine biologist who is coordinating efforts to monitor the decline of the world’s most colourful ecosystem.

    Global heating and ocean acidification have already severely bleached 16 to 33% of all warm-water reefs, but the remainder are vulnerable to even a fraction of a degree more warming, said David Obura, chair of the Coral Specialist Group in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

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  • In the latest from our series on biodiversity, the Blue Hill chef says we’ve got sustainable agriculture wrong. It’s not a question of sacrifice, but deliciousness

    “How does it taste?” says Dan Barber, regarding me expectantly in the garden of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, his restaurant in the Hudson Valley just north of New York. I am gnawing the crust of a large piece of bread that has been grown from Barber Wheat, a hybrid seed developed by Barber and his partners to be nutrient dense, high in yield and – a radical thought in seed breeding, apparently – full of flavour. (Whereas clapped out old seeds might yield 30 bushels an acre, Barber Wheat will stretch to 95). The bread is simultaneously light, and dense, and intricate in flavour in such a way that I can’t think of a single word to do it justice. Barber, who at 49 has the manic energy of someone for whom no plate of food will ever live up to the ideal in his head, looks at me gloomily. “That’s the whole problem with food writing,” he says.

    There are bigger problems in the food world. With the possible exception of “financial regulation”, there can be few more deadly phrases to the casual reader than “sustainable agriculture”, a heavy-weather issue most of us recognise as increasingly important but nonetheless killingly dull. This is where Barber, who set up his restaurant in 2004, is hugely persuasive, a charismatic leader who, if you talk to him for an hour while walking around the kitchen and bucolic surroundings of Stone Barns, will have you genuinely excited about crop rotation, and soil conditions, and the fact that the food industry is a dying behemoth reliant on low-yield, agronomically risky seeds that produce ever more tasteless and nutrition-less food.

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