When Arthur Conan Doyle retired Sherlock Holmes for the last time, he had the fictional detective spending his retirement keeping bees. It is, like coarse fishing, a most innocent occupation. Bees live in hives and serve for humans two purposes. They product honey, and everyone needs a little honey in their lives, and they pollenate plants.
I have never kept bees but I have eaten honey which is made by bees. I have eaten honey in dozens of countries of the world where thousands of people keep millions of bees, and I have spread honey on bread, mixed it with yogurt and drank it with hot water and lemon.
Mostly bees are benign and helpful to humans. I knew a man who died as a result of a reaction to a bee’s sting, but that reaction is fortunately very rare. Many folk find it dangerous to eat peanuts. Occasional danger from innocent species is something with which humans have always had to cope throughout history. Far more danger comes from other humans, than it does from plants and animals.
Bees have been in declining numbers. If bee numbers decline not only will there be less and more expensive honey but there will be a bad effect on the environment as many of the plants that we enjoy or which are an intrinsic part of the ecological food chain will decline. Our environment will be much poorer as a result and we do not know how nature will react if an intrinsic part of the food chain is lost forever. It is unlikely to be a pleasant experience for those of us you remain as part of that food chain. If you disturb an ecological system, you can never protect humanity fully from all the consequences.
The European Food Safety Agency thinks that the decline in the number of bees is partly as a result of three specific pesticides which humans developed and use to control pests in farming food. These are imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianindin which belong to a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids and they paralyse the nervous system of insects. They are nerve chemical warfare for insects. These pesticides are not essential to the production of food. They may even be unnecessary, because humans are quite gullible when it comes to buying what are sold as panaceas and sometimes are simply snake oil.
Anyway, as a result of the work of the European Food Safety Agency it was suggested that these three pesticides are banned for two years, in order to give the bee population and other pollinating insects a chance to recover. A vote in the European Parliament failed to reach the majority needed with the United Kingdom and Germany opposing the two year proposed ban.
Of course the industries that produce and sell these pesticides say that there is insufficient evidence to blame the decline in the numbers of pollinators on these chemicals and also claim that failing to use these pesticides would create massive problems for farmers. The debate is at a similar stage to the debate about the effects of smoking in the 1950s or the effect of lead in petrol in the 1960s. Eventually the science more or less prevailed in those debates after a long time of arguing probably because the dangers of smoking and lead in petrol were directly to human health. Trying to ban a product that has an indirect effect on human health is always much more difficult.