Waste as a resource

July 31, 2020

 

Friday 31 July, 2020

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Today’s political vision on waste is heavily imprinted by commercial greed: use and throw away (uża u armi).

As never before such imprinted vision is having its heavy toll on society and the environment. A look at the unmanaged waste-mountain at Magħtab spells it all. Every day it is rising and rising to new heights, bursting at its seams, determined to obliterate further resources, destroying and suffocating more biodiversity, putting people’s livelihood in danger, with direct and indirect negative impacts beyond its footprint.

Irrespective of whatever political colour one is blindfolded with, it is an accepted fact that waste is a resource: an organic or physical resource resulting from the exploiting mother earth. To achieve profit maximisation, products are presented to the consumer at an added invisible cost, which is borne by society and the environment. Not convinced? Have a look at Magħtab and the new expansions plans!

The concept of the separation of waste has made some in depths on the management of such a resource. However, one would be absolved for thinking that this initiative was more for convenience sake rather than conviction, undertaken to answer social and environmental concerns. If not, why does the same authority allegedly dump all separated waste at Maghtab?

From the political horse’s mouth, Government does not have any plans on how to deal with this ‘waste’.  We are told this is a necessary evil, despite EU targets linked to Waste Framework Directive (WFD), the Landfill Directive and the Packaging Directive, beside others.

In Denmark I visited the municipality of Hvidovre on a much sought date – the first Saturday of the Month. In a recycling hall (Genbrugshal) goods and products collected by the Commune from owners who wanted to get rid of such ‘waste’, were exhibited for sale at a nominal price. There were from chandeliers to syntesizers, from pots and pans to furniture. The proceeds went to the Commune

Waste as a resource in Denmark

Genbrugshal was socially, environmentally and financially friendly on all accounts. Such initiative took the pressure from landfills, Reducing the demand on natural resources, creating a new industry in its Reuse, with a financial multiplier effect in its Recycling.

A visit to Malta’s bring-in-sites, uncovered furniture, once-used new wooden boards, prams, white goods, electronic items, some waiting for the machinery jaws to render them to smithereens to be taken and dumped at Magħtab.

I tried to take one wooden pallet from the hundreds waiting to be devoured by the destructive jaws. ‘No’ was the answer, nothing from the bring-in-sites can be taken by the public, not even if paid for.

If such ‘waste’ is regarded as a resource and can be reused in Denmark, why cannot it also be done in Malta? The answer is simple: either because the political pro-business mentality feels that the business community profits would be threatened, thus sending shivers down the politicians’ ‘spine’, or because it is officially accepted, and applauded by the electorate, that we are a generation or two behind the modern approach of conserving natural resources.

Such a resource is awaiting to be harvested instead of obliterating more precious resources having social, environmental and financial importance. What is keeping politicians from embarking on such a win-win measures? Besides the myopic pro-business vision, the appointment of politically hand-picked individuals, whose only qualification is to faithfully echo their master’s voice, only leads to a cul-de-sac named Maghtab.

This destructive political agenda seems to be the local politicians endemic road map.

The lack of such win-win scenarios, brushed aside for quick temporary expensive solutions, only lead to more destruction of biodiversity. This destructive political agenda seems to be the local politicians endemic road map. Examples include: €70 million EU funds used to channel to the sea all rain water, another scarce natural resource (result of bad planning regarded as storm water); the bulldozing of fields, rubble walls, biodiversity, characteristic local buildings in getting things done with EU funds, to open new roads by Infrastructure Malta, experts at such destruction, mainly for political mileage; the destruction of local biodiversity through public funds used for spraying pesticides and herbicides by ‘landscapers’; and the destruction of local urban landscapes by the Planning Authority’s lack of any planning and management vision.

Who can be blamed for saying that the destruction of the local natural resources is on the Government official approved agenda, a long as somebody can make a quick buck, or perhaps a million or two. Making hay while the sun shines to collect golden eggs, while destructing our scarce natural resources has never been so official.

When this and future generations start to lick the wounds, and pay through their noses the hidden costs of today’s political short-sited vision and decisions, the politicians won’t be here to share the results of their decisions. And future generations will have to sort it out themselves.

The new young Minister for the Environment, also responsible for planning, seems to be au courant with environmental concerns. His urge  “… to keep criticising us and holding us accountable until we become the environmental  movement that we aspire to be” hopefully gives an added breath of fresh air to stakeholders, so far more accustomed to dictatorial decisions and fake consultations.

Stakeholders have to be involved in decision making, to achieve more professional approach in the name of one and all, for the good of our country which has been lent to us by future generations and which is presently being ransacked by greedy politicians and their friends.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


The public landscaping mistakes experts say need fixing

October 18, 2019

Monday, 14th October, 2019

As an old contract comes to an end, we asked experts what we’ve done wrong

Jessica Arena

   photo: Times of Malta

Public landscaping practices in Malta have been plagued by poor practices which should not be repeated once a contract with the old consortium comes to an end, experts have said.

The public-private partnership deal between Environmental Landscapes Consortium and the government expires at the end of the year and a process for a new call for tenders is in the works.

In 2017, the National Audit Office published a report that found that the partnership with ELC should have long been dissolved due to a series of contract breaches on the part of the consortium.

The government has spent over €100 million since the start of the agreement in 2002, where neither the original partnership agreement nor the two subsequent contract extensions were awarded through a competitive tendering process.

The report, however, does not address the environmental critiques leveled at ELC, particularly when it comes to taking a more biodiversity-conscious approach to landscaping works.

Planting invasive species

“The consortium’s most insidious environmental impact has been the indiscriminate use of non-indigenous species during a number of landscaping projects,” marine biologist and environmentalist Alan Deidun told Times of Malta.

RELATED STORIES

In its early days, the consortium was responsible for the widespread planting of the hottentot fig (Carpobrotus edulis), a highly invasive species of South African succulent, he said.

Using water-guzzling turf

Additionally, ELC was often criticised for its use of water-guzzling turfs and the planting of non-local stocks of native species.

Millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used

Landscaper and garden expert Fernando Mifsud said: “Although aesthetically beautiful, lawns need a lot of water to keep them looking green and also need a lot of fertilisers and chemicals to keep them looking healthy.”

Such pesticides leach into the ground, killing the biodiversity in the soil. They are also washed in the water course through water runoff when it rains, therefore negatively affecting water creatures like frog populations, he said.

Removing local ‘weeds’

Additionally, the overuse of pesticides and the culling of local flora considered to be ‘weeds’ were also critiques leveled at the landscaping consortium.

Local flora is often culled from landscaping projects to maintain “neatness” – however, these species are closely linked to local fauna such as native butterfly or bird species, and their elimination contributes to the scarce propagation of local fauna.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino maintains that had the funds invested in the consortium in the past 15 years been utilised professionally, Malta would be covered with indigenous trees grown from local stock.

“From a biodiversity point of view, taking into consideration national and international obligation, millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used,” Mr Baldacchino said.

What should a new contract stipulate?

Mr Baldacchino, who has been petitioning the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for a copy of the public agreement since 2015, believes a new agreement should regard contractors solely as operators and a regulatory role should fall within the Environment Ministry.

“Contractors should not be allowed any monopoly on landscaping. Emphasis should be entrenched in the contract that all trees and shrubs used for landscaping purposes should be propagated from local stock, so that a new local industry can be established for centres providing indigenous plants,” Mr Baldacchino said.

RELATED STORIES

This will also ensure the local gene pool of the indigenous species is not polluted, thus contributing towards better protection of indigenous species also from diseases and invasive alien species, having more educational input for the benefit of the public, and contributing to a multiplier effect from the funds allocated for landscaping.

Prof. Deidun stressed that future operators should ensure that only native or indigenous species fully adapted to the semi-arid conditions of the Mediterranean Basin are planted in landscaping projects.

“Additionally, plants which represent year-round important food resources for pollinators (e.g. bees) should be favoured, despite their status as ‘weeds’ by the public,” he added.

Mr Mifsud also says there should be an obligation to focus on the planting of indigenous species that propagate better in the region.

“These trees and plants need less care and are resistant to drought and pests. Over the years, they have evolved and adapted to our climate. This would also reduce the maintenance cost on the long run,” Mr Mifsud said.

When contacted, ELC declined to comment.

other related articles on this blog

Trees hit headlines

Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

Maltese trees – conserving and landscaping

updating/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/trees-and-invasive-species

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/alien-invasive-species-animation-film

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/eu-stand-on-invasive-species/

 


Where have all the butterflies gone?

July 21, 2019

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Landscaping works contributing to further biodiversity loss

Jessica Arena

 

A few decades ago, butterflies of every shape and colour would take off in swarms as you walked under carob trees. Nowadays, the decline of butterflies is occurring at such a high rate that when naturalists spot a particularly uncommon species, they do not disclose its location; to protect the insects from harm.

While migratory butterflies can still be spotted with some frequency, local butterflies have all but disappeared from view. Landscaping works being carried out without consideration for local fauna and flora are having a devastating effect of the state of Maltese biodiversity, according to experts.

Jake Farrugia, an earth systems student and amateur lepidopterist, recounts how just earlier this month, while collecting fennel for his own larvae, he spotted a large number of swallowtail butterfly larvae nestled in the fennel bushes. Returning to the site a few days later, Mr Farrugia says that during landscaping works in Triq il-Buskett, Rabat, the native fennel bushes on the side of the road were all removed, taking the butterfly larvae with them.

“Plants growing under country walls and other walls are essential in providing micro habitats for all sorts of flora and fauna,” Mr Farrugia says.

“A butterfly looking to deposit eggs, such as the swallowtail, would have gladly chosen this spot since it is sheltered from the sun and wind as well as potential predators.”

The removal of fennel bushes and other local flora constitutes as habitat loss… We are shooting ourselves in the foot,” Mr Farrugia says, adding that the desire to ’embellish’ public spaces is not allowing nature to adapt .

Alfred Baldacchino, an environmentalist and former assistant director at the Mepa Environmental Directorate, describes the conservation of biodiversity as pitiful.                   ,

“Despite the fact that the Environment and Resources Authority is responsible for biodiversity protection and conservation through the enforcement of EU legislation, they  are incompetent, ignorant of the situation and failing to take any proactive measures,” Mr Baldacchino says.

Biodiversity loss can be attributed to an intersecting number of external situations, the most pressing of which, according to Mr Baldacchino, is climate change. Rapid changes in temperature, the use of fossil fuels and pesticides are compounded upon flora and fauna, giving the environment very little time to adjust.

“ERA is incompetent and ignorant of the situation”

“This year alone we have seen temperatures in France soar to 45’C, several fires in Europe, the destruction of Miżieb,” says Mr Baldacchino.

“There is a complete lack of interest, lack of tangible effort, lack of any help at all from the Ministry responsible for climate change and the environment.”

According to Mr Baldacchino, the ERA and Ambjent Malta are not doing enough to mitigate  the   effects  of   climate change and prevent further biodiversity loss through adequate conservation plans.

“Mizieb is a case in point,” he says,”first there’s a disaster and afterwards we run a study about how it could have been prevented.”

When it comes to landscaping, Mr Baldacchino says the authorities and entities concerned demonstrate a pattern of disinterest and wilful ignorance with respect the havoc being wreaked on native flora.

“The Environmental Landscapes Consortium is the worst enemy of biodiversity,” Mr Baldacchino says. “Their only interest is.monetary profit. Despite the fact that they have been paid €8 million a year for the past 15 years from public funds, all they have to show for it is the destruction of biodiversity, use of chemicals and water-thirsty turfs which compete with local flora.”

There is a public perception of biodiversity that regards the majority of wayside flora as ‘ħaxix ħażin’ (weeds) and that its removal causes only superficial damage. This position is something Mr Baldacchino calls “professional ignorance” as even school children are taught that flora is an integral part of the ecosystem.

Wayside flora are unique ecological niches and  often serve as breeding grounds for insects and other fauna, as well as being highly attractive to pollinators, such as bees and even butterflies.

The careless removal of these niches could spell doom not just for our butterflies but for the long term health of the environment itself, Mr Baldacchino stresses.

“When ELC act like they derive pleasure from removing every blade of grass that grows, we only have a recipe for disaster.”

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


Glyphosate & you – with addenda

January 17, 2017

gravatar

Glyphosate & you – with addenda

Tuesday, 17th January 2016.

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Following the article in the Times of Malta, which was also posted on this blog, the Minsiter for the Environemnt, made a statement on Glyphosate during the parliamentary sitting of 16th January, 2017.

I am posting a photo shot of such comments, downloaded from the Minister’s Facebook page, and kindly forwarded to me by the Clean Food Movement.

2017.01.16 - ministru fil-parlament.png

A clear, official indication that the commercial rules of the free market come before any concerns for human health, the safeguarding of the ecosystem, and additional public expenditure to correct the negative impacts. All in the name of commerce!

This despite the official EU claims that the EU does not authorise the placing on the market of pesticides, because this is the responsibility of the Member States, as explained in the previous post on this blog. I still cannot find any reference where the EU concluded that glyphosate is not cancerogenic.

Previous findings from the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, concluded that glyphosate is a ‘probable carcinogen’.

A study was conducted over two years at Kings College, London. It found that residues of popular weedkiller glyphosate found in food can cause fatty liver disease.

Rats were administered a very low daily dose of four nanograms per kilogram of bodyweight per day. To put that into perspective this is 75,000 times below the levels of glyphosate permitted in the EU in our food.

According to lead researcher Dr Michael Antoniou, previous studies on human urine found that we often consume around a thousand times the amount of glyphosate the rats consumed. Regulators globally accept toxicity studies in rats as indicators of human health risk, making this a signiÏcant, a truly disturbing, discovery.

Glyphosate has only now been recognised as a cause of the liver disease (nonalcoholic fatts liver disease), which can cause fatigue, weakness, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, spiderlike blood vessels, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), itching, and swelling of the legs and abdomen, and mental confusion.

I do honestly hope that no politician can dare say that there is nothing wrong with this as long as it is not cancer.

dead bee 16Unfortunately, I can only join the bees and say: “Thank you Honourable Minister” for the heroic efforts towards human health and the environment. Future generations will be grateful for the ‘price’ they will have to pay.

further reading:

Glyphosate & you – http://wp.me/pL6Mk-16E

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/sena-dizastru-ghan-nahal/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/glyphosate-debate-goes-on/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/glyphosate-debate-goes-on-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/bees-alert-its-goodbye-honey/

 

 

 


Glyphosate & you

January 16, 2017

times of malta

‘EU’s permission to ban glyphosate is not needed’

Monday, January 16, 2017

 Sarah Carabott

 

photo-pesticides

Placing peticides on the market is the role of the member states. Photo: Shutterstock

Malta can still decide to ban products containing the weedkiller glyphosate and does not need any EU permission, environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino insists.

Mr Baldacchino, a former assistant director of the environment directorate at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, was contacted after this newspaper was informed the government would only ban the use of glyphosate when such a move was ordered by the EU.

Only last summer, the Environment Ministry said the government had started the process to ban glyphosate. However, only products containing both the active substance glyphosate and the co-formulant POE-tallowamine are being banned. This, according to the ministry, includes Hopper Blu, Roundup, Roundup Max and Seccherba Respect.

stephanie-seneff-glyphosate

The price society pays to have ‘cheap’ food. Is it worth it?

A study has just been released showing that Roundup caused liver disease in rats. The World Health Organisation’s cancer agency says glyphosate itself is a “probable carcinogen”. Mr Baldacchino said the government was right to vote last June against the use of glyphosate in line with the precautionary principle cited by environmental groups, which stated that potentially hazardous substances should not be used unless they were proven to be safe.

What more proof does the minister need? The minister should seek the advice of all stakeholders, not just commercial ones

“But it seems the Environment Minister’s spokeswoman wants the minister to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.” “The EU does not authorise the placing on the market of pesticides. It is the role and responsibility of the member states to do so and the regulator in this area is the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.”

“Malta can still decide to ban products containing glyphosate if it is not sure that the chemicals can have negative health and ecological impacts,” he insisted. Mr Baldacchino noted that it had already been proven that glyphosate killed bees, directly when they came in contact with the product and also by killing the flowers they fed on. Traces of the chemical had also been found in honey.

dead bee 16“What more proof does the minister need? The minister should seek the advice of all stakeholders, not just commercial ones, and this includes NGOs, technical experts, health experts, environmentalists and beekeepers,” he said.

The ministry, Mr Baldacchino continued, should also make clear what its intentions were and how it would enforce the ban. He wondered who would monitor what chemicals were used in herbicides and pesticides.

In a letter sent to the Environment Minister, the Clean Food Movement expressed dismay at the ministry’s watered-down position, saying the ban had turned out to be “no more than window dressing”.

“We are now more concerned than ever about the possible continued use of glyphosate on these islands,” the letter to the minister read.

Contacted in his capacity as chemical expert, Alfred Vella, the University rector, said herbicides containing more than one active ingredient did exist. POE-tallowamine was frequently present in herbicide compositions to serve as a “surfactant”, which was not designed to kill weeds but to make the delivery of the actual toxic chemical, such as glyphosate, more effective in its action. Still, at high enough concentration, POE tallowamine itself did have toxic properties in the case of certain organisms, he said.

Concern usually revolved around the stability and durability of herbicides and pesticides after being dispersed in the environment. If their stability was high and they remained on edible produce for far too long, it meant they could be consumed together with the vegetables containing them. There were also concerns about their solubility in water, as rainwater would be able to take chemicals down to the water table or nearby seawater.

On the other hand, chemicals that were not easily soluble in water were normally quite soluble in fatty matter, meaning they could be absorbed through the skin if contaminated harvested produce came in contact with animals or people.

killed by public funds

The price the ecosystem pays to have ‘cheap food. Is it worth it?

Prof. Vella acknowledged there was concern about pesticides and herbicides in general, however, he advised on looking at both sides of the coin. The use of pesticides allowed agriculture to produce food in much larger volumes and cheaper prices than without the chemicals.

While it was possible to live in a pesticide-free environment, society would likely have to pay a price. Apart from increased cost of foods, the decline in production could cut off some people’s access to meat, fruit and vegetables and that would also have health consequences, Prof. Vella pointed out.

______________________________________________________

Does the EU authorise the placing on the market of pesticides?

dead bee 8

who is paying for this if we may ask?

No, that’s the role of member states but active substances in the pesticides have to be approved at EU level. Once an active substance is approved at EU level, the safety evaluation of every pesticide formulation is done at a later stage by individual member states before they grant, refuse or restrict the use of pesticides formulations at national level.

In their authorisation decision, member states can therefore define the conditions for use of the product, for instance, restricted to certain crops, for professional use or for use in glass houses only.

*Information taken from the European Commission site.

______________________________________________________

 

further reading:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/sena-dizastru-ghan-nahal/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/glyphosate-debate-goes-on/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/glyphosate-debate-goes-on-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/bees-alert-its-goodbye-honey/


Where the wind blows

April 12, 2016

times of malta

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Where the wind blows

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The EU met on 8th March 2016 to decide whether to extend for another 15 years, the use of glyphosate, a crucial weedkiller ingredient. The decision was abruptly postponed at the eleventh hour.

pic-3

A glyphosate-based weed killer

Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that is widely used in agriculture, public areas and private gardens. It is also used in genetically modified crops, which are specifically engineered to resist glyphosate-based products.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, announced that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.  Environmental groups have since been calling for its ban.

Following WHO’s warnings, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will undertake further studies to see if glyphosate can cause cancer, interfere with reproduction or damage the hormone system. The herbicide glyphosate can enter the body through food or drinking water. A new study has shown that the majority of Germans have been contaminated by the compound.

killed by public funds

Dead pollinators – bees – after spraying pesticides, especially for purely commercial purposes. 

According to scientists, heavy and repeated uses of glypohosate-based herbicides, contributes to many envirionmental and soil-ecosystem problems. Glyphosate results in the greatest public and worker exposure, either directly or through residues in food. And its impacts on biodiversity is also well known: it decimates and eliminates pollinators such as bees.

On the other hand, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) contends that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans and proposed higher limits on the amount of residue of the weed killer deemed safe for humans to consume, a report which Greenpeace has referred to as “a whitewash”.

spraying pesticides 1

Whose responsibility is it: Ministry of Landscaping? Ministry of Health? Ministry of Environment? Ministry of Consumer Affairs?Ministry for Local Councils? 

The Swedish Environment Minister said: “We won’t take risks with glyphosate and we don’t think that the analysis done so far is good enough. We will propose that no decision is taken until further analysis has been done and the EFSA scientists have been more transparent about their considerations.”

Before the scheduled vote of 8 March, leaders from Italy joined Sweden, France, and the Netherlands against the widely-used herbicide.

Following such postponement, EU Member States were given till the 18 March 2016 to provide their opinion for the next meeting, scheduled for 18 May. But the Times of Malta (March 29) quoted a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Environment, that Malta did not submit such opinion by the 18 March, because discussions were still ongoing.

spraying pesticides 2

Workers are just a cog in the pro-business machine. As long as they deliver, it is not important to ensure that they wear hazardous clothing.

Following a number of articles and comments in the press, it is now more than obvious that in Malta the eagerness for monitoring and enforcing is at its lowest ebb, if at all. The professionalism of passing the buck is more pronounced.

As per Pesticides Control Act, 2001 and the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority Act, 2011, the competent authority for the authorisation and regulation of pesticides in Malta is the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA).

But, according to this newspaper, MCCAA refused to state it’s position and directed questions to the Environment Ministry. The latter is responsible for the protection of biodiversity, the Pesticides Control Board (PCB) which is chaired by a Ministry’s representative, and also for agriculture for which a parliamentary secretary is accountable.

Because of the impacts of pesticides on human food and animal feeds, representatives of the Food and Safety Commission and the Environment Health Department, both under the responsibility of the Minister for Energy and Health are represented on the PCB.

“I tend to start believing that Malta will not go to the next meeting on May 18 with an official public position”

One of the functions of the Food and Safety Commission is to effectively apply the precautionary principle when a significant risk to consumers is identified or reasonably suspected. Sitting on the fence is the Minister of Landscaping who is responsible for use of pesticides by his landscaping official public partner who seems to be immune to any regulation with regards to human safety and biodiversity.

One would tend to ask. “What would Malta have voted if the matter was not postponed?” In such a sensitive social and ecological matter, one would have thought that the decision was easy. But in all probabilities the pro-business vision is quite a high and a strong hurdle to overcome.

From past and present experience, considering the pro-business vision dominating every other sector, and the fortunate position in the EU’s alphabetical list, I tend to start believing that Malta will not go to the next meeting on 18 May with an official public position. The position will be reached according to the way the majority of the EU Member States vote: in other words, where the wind blows.

spraying pesticides 3

Commercial interests spray to their heart’s content: in public area, in public gardens, in street, outsides residential areas, close to public outlets. Anywhere as long as they make some profit out of it. Externalities will be paid by the general public and the environment. 

This despite the negative impacts that such a decision will undoubtedly have on society and ecology, which will be more acute locally considering the smallness of the country. Why does Malta have to be feel embarrassed by a vote in favour of society and the environment?

Miriam Dalli, member of the European Parliament Environment Committee, is quoted as saying that “ultimately we are speaking about the health of our citizens and this is another case where I stand firm in my belief that public health is not negotiable and must not be compromised by any commercial interest.”

One has to wait till the vote on 18 May to see what stand Malta will take: whether MCCAA will be on the side of commercial interests, or use the precautionary principle in the interests of social and environmental health.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/glyphosate-debate-goes-on/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/glyphosate-debate-goes-on-2/

 


Glyphosate debate goes on

March 29, 2016

‘Malta unclear on carcinogenic pesticide’

In 2013, nine of 10 people tested in Malta had traces of glyphosate in their urine, which was the highest rate in Europe.

In 2013, nine of 10 people tested in Malta had traces of glyphosate in their urine, which was the highest rate in Europe.

Malta’s position on the use of the potentially cancer-causing chemical glyphosate in pesticides is still unclear ahead of a crucial vote in May, as the European Commission seeks to extend its approval for the next 15 years.

Labour MEP Miriam Dalli, however, has voted for a ban on the chemical in the European Parliament, despite the Maltese government so far refusing to state its position.

The government was requested to give the European Commission its suggestions on the proposal by last Friday, but an Environment Ministry spokeswoman told the Times of Malta that it had not done so, as discussions were still ongoing.

Glyphosate, a common ingredient in weed killers, is considered to be a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organisation, and environmental NGOs have long called for its use to be suspended.

Tests carried out by Friends of the Earth Malta in 2013 found that nine of 10 people tested in Malta had traces of glyphosate in their urine, the highest rate in Europe.

The Commission’s European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), however, published a report in November stating that the chemical was “unlikely” to cause cancer, paving the way for re-approval. The report was heavily contested by France, Sweden and the Netherlands, who have all come out strongly against glyphosate use.

National pesticide regulators from all EU countries, as well as the Commission, met on March 8 to decide on the matter but could not reach the majority necessary for a decision, prompting a postponement of the vote.

The Commission proposal includes the authorisation of glyphosate for nearly the maximum period possible (15 years) but also increases the acceptable amounts of glyphosate residues in food by 66 per cent.

When contacted, the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA), the local regulator, refused to state its position and instead directed questions to the Environment Ministry. Informed sources, however, said the regulator had recommended that the government vote to ban glyphosate, although the final decision rests with the government.

A resolution passed on Monday by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, of which Dr Dalli is a member, called for the blocking of the Commission’s proposal. The resolution will now be put before a plenary session in April.

Dr Dalli, who voted for a ban, said the EFSA report was based on unpublished studies which should be disclosed before any decision was made to ensure its conclusions were scientifically sound.

“Ultimately here we are speaking about the health of our citizens and this is another case where I stand firm in my belief that public health is not negotiable and must not be compromised by any commercial interest,” she said.

Asked if she believed the government should vote to ban the chemical, Dr Dalli said: “The government should analyse the proposal in great detail and keep as a priority citizens’ health to make sure that the decision is taken based on proper scientific evidence.”

Former environment directorate head Alfred Baldacchino told this newspaper the EU should apply the precautionary principle enshrined in its treaties, which states that potentially hazardous products should not be used unless they can be proven to be safe.

“This is necessary in the interest of biodiversity and of society,” Mr Baldacchino said. “If a harmful effect were to be proven further down the line, it would be too late to control.”

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/departments-passing-buck-over-pesticide-regulations/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

 

 


‘Departments passing buck over pesticide regulations’

March 9, 2016

‘Departments passing buck over pesticide regulations’

Philip Leone-Ganado

Pesticide spraying is having disastrous results on biodiversity and public health, says Alfred Baldacchino.

Pesticide spraying is having disastrous results on biodiversity and public health, says Alfred Baldacchino.

Government entities were passing the buck on pesticide regulation, causing fragmentation that was having disastrous results on biodiversity and public health, a leading environmentalist has warned.

Alfred Baldacchino told the Times of Malta that, since July 2014, he had attempted to raise concerns over the indiscriminate spraying of herbicides and insecticides with several government departments and bodies but none assumed full responsibility.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, the Health Ministry, the Environmental Landscapes Consortium and the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority were all contacted, he said.

They either referred the matter to another department or did not respond, although the MCCAA promised to call an interdepartmental meeting between all the stakeholders to determine the way forward.

bee-dead-4Mr Baldacchino said the regulation provided by the MCCAA* was solely from a financial aspect, leaving no effective regulator for the impact pesticides had on biodiversity.

sprayer-8He warned that wild flower ecosystems, which provided a habitat for important pollinating species like bees, were being destroyed due to widespread pesticide use by the landscapes consortium and local councils.

Bees and other pollinating species are responsible for about 15 per cent of Malta’s 2014.05.23 - Calendula-suffruticosa-subsp.-fulgida3total agricultural produce but have been in decline for years. Some experts estimate that there are now 60 per cent fewer bee colonies than there were just 20 years ago.

pic-3“This should be a matter for the agriculture and environmental health departments,” Mr Baldacchino said. “I don’t know if the MCCAA has the expertise to handle the situation. The authorities are handing responsibility over to entities without the necessary competence, so everything stagnates.”

 

bexx-fuq-il-bankingi

Somebody must be responsible and paying for such spraying of chemicals.

Mr Baldacchino said the controls that should be in place in relation to councils of localities where the spraying of pesticide took place were ineffective in practice. Such controls should also cover the ministers responsible for local government, water and the environment, he added.

An official request he made to view the contract between the government and the landscaping consortium was blocked by the Infrastructure Minister, Mr Baldacchino said.

bexx-fl-ibliet-malta

Who is paying for such spraying of chemicals? Could it be the Minster responsible for Landscaping?

“The government’s pro-business vision comes at the expense of everyone and everything, including society, which is suffering from health problems, and our biodiversity,” he continued. “It seems that, as long as someone is profiting, there’s no will to address the problem.”

The EU has regulations on the use of pesticides and maximum levels of residues. Activists campaigning for the reduction of pesticide use worldwide say pesticides have been linked to a wide variety of health hazards, from headaches and nausea to cancer and endocrine disruption.

2015.05.23---march-against-Monsanto---Valletta

Maltese NGOs and the general public protesting against the use of toxic chemicals and the use of GMOs

Also, chronic health effects could occur years after minimal exposure to pesticides ingested from food and water. New research published in France this week showed that homes close to cultivated areas are exposed year round to a significant cocktail of pesticides, many of which are potential endocrine disruptors, substances that threaten developing foetuses and young children even at low doses.

“This fact illustrates the urgent need to change agricultural practices and to ensure that the spraying of synthetic pesticides is prohibited near areas where people live,” said François Veillerette, a spokesman for Générations Futures, the organisation that carried out the search.

* should read MELP – Malta Environment and Landscaping Projects (AEB)

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles on blog:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/prezz-qares-li-jkollna-nhallsu-jekk-neqirdu-n-nahal/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/roundabout-plants-described-as-invaders/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/bees-alert-its-goodbye-honey/

 


Use and overuse of pesticides

March 4, 2016

Reference is made to the letter on ‘The pesticide levels’, by Marcel Pizzuto, chairman of the Malta Competition and Consumer Affair Authority (Febr 4).

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160204/letters/The-pesticide-levels.601173

We would like to bring the following to his attention and to the attention of everyone concerned.

We asked for a meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Roderick Galdes, regarding the use and overuse of insecticides, even in roads and roundabouts. These are affecting the population of honey bees and the flora they depend on.dead bee 3

We also wanted to bring up the subject that foreign honey products were being sold and labelled as products of Malta. This is unfair competition and affects local honey bees and honey producers.

We were met by the parliamentary secretary’s chief of staff on July 17, 2014, and told most of the matters did not fall under their remit. We were referred to the Customs Department. He undertook to assist in any way possible, but this did not lead anywhere.

dead bee 6So we met the Director of Customs on August 25, 2014, and explained to him the above. We were also told that some of the subjects were not under his remit and we were referred to the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

dead bee 8On August 28, 2014, we wrote the permanent secretary at the Health Ministry about the matter. Since no reply or acknowledgement was received, we sent a reminder, dated September 28, 2014. All to no avail.

dead bee 11On September 15, 2014, we met the acting director general and his legal adviser at the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority and discussed the matters mentioned above.

Once again, we were told the subject did not concern the regulator but was more related to the Environmental Health Directorate at the Health Ministry.

dead bee 7But, during the meeting, the acting director general undertook to organise an inter-departmental meeting between all the stakeholders who apparently had some say in the matter to determine the way forward. An inter-departmental meeting had to be held with representatives of the Environmental Health Directorate, the Trade Directorate and the Agriculture secretariat.

                    “Nobody can be blamed for                                            thinking the worst under the circumstances”
We wrote again to the acting director general and to his lawyer (Consumer Affairs) on January 12, 2015, and copied the letter to, among others, the MCCAA chairman, the head of secretariat at Agriculture and the parliamentary Ombudsman, asking for a reply.

dead bee 7Two days later, we were informed that a reply was being prepared by MCCAA. A reply dated January 16, 2015, was indeed received. The letter only served to shed light on the fragmentation between government entities, leading to a failure to take concrete action.

dead bee 13Then, on January 20, 2015, we were informed that the matter was referred to the Environmental Health Directorate at the Health Ministry.

killed by public funds

The result of unnecessary spraying of herbicides and pesticides paid out of public funds.

On February 6, 2015, the attention of the negative impacts of weed killers were referred to the chairman of the Environmental Landscapes Consortium. We received a letter from the office of the permanent secretary at the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, stating that “ELC feels that any complaints regarding the use of herbicides and weed killers should be addressed to the authorities concerned”.

Following our efforts, which we believe public entities should be doing in the first place, can the MCCAA chairman please inform us whether the regulator is really interested and willing to investigate unfair trade?

 

herbicide 2

Spraying of herbicides and pesticides in the countryside, also paid out of public funds.

Are any of the authorities in general (especially those responsible for the environment, health and agriculture) interested in the indiscriminate use of pesticides and the effect of this on the public’s health, which, in turn, affects our economy too (sick people are unproductive, apart from needing treatment)?

We would also like to highlight that, since our initial efforts, herbicides are still being sprayed uncontrolled, biodiversity, including bees, is still being decimated, and unfair competition – from products being sold as ‘local’ when they are anything but – is still ongoing.

dead bee 15We fully agree with the MCCAA chairman that: “Finally, one would have thought that before publishing such an article in the Times of Malta which could alarm consumers unnecessarily, verification would have been carried out to ensure that this was the result of an interview in order to ensure that a factual picture is given to its readers.”

However, this does not justify the blatant lack of concrete action by the government (collectively) to safeguard the environment, to safeguard our health and also to help preserve the business of genuine Maltese artisans. Nobody can be blamed for thinking the worst under the circumstances.

bexx-f'mater-dei

More waste of resources at the expense of the public and biodiversity – also paid out of public funds.

The problems we are highlighting require a concerted effort and concrete collective commitment if they are to be resolved. Maybe the MCCAA chairman is willing to take the initiative in this respect. This was mentioned at the meetings held on July 17, 2014, and September 15, 2014, but to no avail.

dead bee 16

If the documentation we have at our end would help the authorities in any way, we would gladly oblige.

Ivan Mifsud is a lawyer and Alfred Baldacchino is an environmentalist.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

ara wkoll:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

 


Bee-eater is not to blame for decline in honey bees

October 27, 2015

times of malta

Monday, october 26, 2015

Bee-eater is not to blame for decline in honey bees

Sarah Carabott

 http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20151026/local/bee-eater-is-not-to-blame-for-decline-in-honey-bees.589691

bee-eater

The colourful bee-eater bird is gracing the Island in increasingly larger numbers, but despite its name It is not the main cause of a recent decline in the honey bee population.

The biggest klllers of honey bees are in fact pesticides and insecticides, sprayed in the open, according to environmentallst Alfred Baldacctilno. These substances, he said, were not only terminating bees but studies had shown that the affected bees were passing on the chemicals to the honey when they flew back to their beehives.

Mr Baldacchino was speaking to this newspaper followlng complalnts from some beekeepers that this species of bird was increasingly feeding off their bees.

The bee-eater has recently started extending its stay in Malta because although It has always been a protected species, it used to be one of the most sought after. Followlng harsher enforcement and greater awareness, it is no longer hunted, Mr Baldacchlno said.

But he defended the bee-eater, saying it did not just feed on bees but also ate other insects, including the oriental hornet, which recently drew fears in urban areas. And as part of the natural ecological cycle, it actually ate old or weak bees, freeing the colony of this burden.

This was reiterated by ornithologist Natalino Fenech, who said that according to Libyan studies, bee-eaters rendered a service to bees by catching the sick and elderly ones.

The study also showed that bee-eaters went instrumental in limiting the spread of some insect pests as well as reducing the spread of different types of wasps and beewolf.

Mr Fenech acknowledged there had been an increase in the number of bee-eaters spotted in Malta because they were no longer shot at and because populations in Sicily had grown.

He explained that the bee-eater fed on all flying insects – from bees to moths, beetles, butterflies, dragonflies and wasps. Photos taken by wildlife photographer Shuki Chefed this summer in Israel even shows a bee-eater trying to swallow a bat.

The biggest killers of honey bees are

in fact pesticides and insecticides

Still, it was not the only bird that ate bees – sparrows, starlings, several warblers as well as II-Merill, or blue rock thrush, did so too at certain times of the year.

Keepers who are worried about the bee-eaters feeding on some of their bees should avoid queening during peak migrations, from late March till mid-April, and in mid-September, he advised.

They should also avoid putting beehive boxes close to or under trees or overhead cables as bee-eaters like to pounce on flying insects from these perches.

Mr Baldacchino’s concern about pesticides was echoed by Michael Muscat, one of the 200 registered bee-keepers in Malta.

2015.10.26---Bee-eater-is-not-to-blame-for-decline-in-honey-bees---timesofmalta_Page_1Mr Muscat, who currently has about 70 colonies, said: “The biggest enemy of bees is the indiscriminate spraying of insecticides and pesticides, especially in the morning, at the peak of pollination.”

According to studies carried out abroad, pesticide and insecticide are the primary culprits of what is known as the colony collapse disorder, which is when the majority of worker bees in a colony abandon the hive because they get disorientated, leaving behind the brood (bee larvae) and stores.

Studies have also shown that neonicotinoids, a class of insecticide, significantly harms the colonies and is the major contributing factor to CCD.

There are other culprits apart from pesticides, although their contribution to bee decline is smaller.

The varroa destructor is a parasite mite that attacks honey bees. In 1992, its importation destroyed some three quarters of the colonies in Malta and Gozo. The bee-keepers have recovered since then.

Another culprit is the hornet, whose population recently exploded in some areas, Mr Muscat said. One particular colony in the Ta’ Xbiex was so severely depleted of foraging bees, because of the hornets, that the colony collapsed.

As for the bee-eater, Mr Muscat said he could not trace the decline of the bee population in some of his apiaries to the bird but he knew of other keepers who have been hit.

See also:

Bees alert: it’s goodbye honey

il-Qerd in-naħal… u n-naħal

COMMENTS

Jay oatmon

To be truthful no one knows the reason for the bee decline – pesticides were not the cause previously (they were not used in the 1880’s or 1920’s) see below: –

http://news.natlonalgeographlc  …

“Today’s pollinator crisis, which has also hit Europe and now parts of Asia, is unprecedented. But honeybees  have done disappearing acts on and off for more than a century. posslbly since humans began domesticating them 4,500 years ago In Egypt.

In the United States, unexplained colony declines in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1980 & baffled farrners, and in 1995-1996 Pennsylvania keepers lost more than half of their colonies wtlhout a clear cause. The1980s and 19908 saw various new parasltes that hit bees hard;

Varoa and tracheal miles became major killers, and they continue to plague hives and keep beekeepers up at night.”

Edward Mallia

The fact that “pesticides were not the cause previously” does not meant that they cannot be an Important cause now. The data about the effects of neonicotinoids is pretty clear, clear enough to warrant a strong campaign against their use. This habit of looking for “the [one] reason” for any natural phenomenon has become a fool’s quest, much used by those interested mainly is avoiding any blame. We now know that effects on anlmal and plant communities are seldom single-cause alfalrs. If “pesticides were not the cause previously”, how would one account for the levels of glyphosate levels found in urine of subjects from aromd the EU? My level, from the-pesticide-free pastures of H’Attard, was the second highest found In EU wide samples.

Petar Pan

If the bee eater eats bees, it does not help the bees to multiply for surel

Manual Mangani

Not necessarily. If it subsists mainly on the older, weaker specimens, it could be helping the younger, healthier bees to thrive on more plentiful food sources.


Environmentalists argue weakness of governments on environmental issues

December 26, 2014

http://www.independent.com.mt/img/logo.jpg

Environmentalists argue weakness of governments

on environmental issues

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Kevin Schembri Orland

“The environment is nothing but a buzzword for politicians on both sides, a buzzword used by them to sound nice and be popular”, Environment photographer Guido Bonett told The Malta Independent.”There has been a gradual degradation of the environment. This is due to a number of things, one of which is the mentality, where they believe that if it doesn’t vote or make money then it is useless. The development boom over the past 30 years has been a real back-breaker as far as the environment is concerned”.

Swallowtail butterfly - Farfett tal-bużbież

Swallowtail butterfly – Farfett tal-bużbież

Roads also disrupt habitats. “I don’t even want to imagine what kind of damage works around the Salina Coast road has caused”. “One thing that really worries me is the state of insect life on the island. Take butterflies for example, we have already lost a number of species and this comes down to the use of pesticides and loss of habitat. If we were to use insects as a thermometer for the wellbeing of the environment then it becomes obvious that we are in trouble. When I was younger, turning over a stone one would find a number of insects and arachnids, from scorpions to centipedes while today one would be lucky to find a couple of snails”.

As an example of species lost, Mr Bonnet said that the small copper butterfly hasn’t been sighted for over ten years. Turning to plants, he said we are losing species of plants just as we are losing species of insects.” One must look at nature as a guidocircle. If part of it is cut, then ripple effects will occur and man is part of this chain”.

Turning to marine life, he said that people who want to dispose of certain rubbish just chuck them into the sea. “The amount of sea pollution is staggering. When scouts hold a clean-up session at a beach, they collect around 50 sacks of garbage in a single morning”. Mr Bonett had a message to politicians, telling them to take the environment more seriously and not encroach on virgin land. “Decision makers need to realise that people who care about the environment have as many votes as those who don’t”.

Lack of appreciation a result of greed

“The fact that we are a small island means that developmental impacts on natural habitats are multiplied. In addition there is a lack of professional management with regard to such developments that leads to the loss of other resources. Take water for example, today we are no longer concerned with storing water when it rains, but rather pay a lot of money to funnel it out to sea. This affects wildlife as all species rely on water. There is also no professional planning when it coms to utilising such a scarce resource.

Landscaping is another problem, as it brings żringabout exotic invasive species of plants that contribute to the further destruction of the Maltese environment. If species being destroyed by development are utilised within the development, at least we would see some of what was taken given back to the eco-system”. “The ecosystem is like a web with everything intertwined. Without bees, for example, pollination would not occur, and thus flowers will not be able to multiply. If one is aware of such beneficial use of all living things, one would realise the importance of protecting such things as without them man wouldn’t be able to survive”.

Mr Baldacchino explained that insects provide food for other species, so aside from directly helping man, they help sustain other species thus creating a balance. Due to education and the availability of mass communication there is a strong awareness to the importance of our environment, he said. “We do tend to push the need to educate our children on the environment and while this is important it would take these children 25 years to really begin to contribute to society”. This shows a failure on the part of current generations who are trying to educate but not lead by example, he said.

Turning to the ‘Save the Countryside’ campaign launched by Din L-Art Helwa, Mr Bonett said; “I am very happy that Din L-Art Helwa took the initiative, which has seen many people showing interest in the environment”.  Mr Baldacchino said that the campaign focusses on saving wild species around the Maltese islands and the environment. “It is useless to protect species without protecting their habitats. This campaign is aimed at creating awareness and communicating the importance of biodiversity with the general public. The campaign is very stimulating and opens doors for future similar campaigns to help communicate and educate the public. It goes without saying that in a couple of years’ time, society and the eco-system will begin to pay the price for such neglect”.

“Membership in the EU means that we are obliged to transpose European legislation into local legislation and on paper, environmental legislation is sufficient. The main concern is, however, that nobody takes care of such legislation. It is not enforced, not administered and it is an open secret that nobody is eager to help the environment and everyone is just washing their hands of it. This is another failure of social responsibility. Environmental responsibility belongs to every Ministry and every person on this island whether he is a man off the street, the Minister of aebEnvironment, the Minister of Health or a member of the clergy. Without this delicate ecological balance, life cannot be sustained. Man is part of the eco-system,” Mr Baldacchino concluded.

“Considering the islands are relatively small, Malta has a large amount of species of flora. In the past they were used for traditional medicine and currently there is growing international awareness to the contribution that wild flora can give in medicine. In fact this movement is so great that many are turning back to traditional medicine”.

Everything is intertwined

“Pollution shows that man doesn’t care for tomorrow, that we are just living for today. We exploit what we can today and tomorrow, should the need arise, we would think about solving the problem. The idea that the earth has been loaned to us by future generations has been completely disregarded.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino believes that the lack of appreciation for the Maltese eco-system, resulting in extensive development, is a result of greed for materialistic items.

“On a positive note, we have seen great leaps in sewage treatment in Malta”, he said.

Loss of species

“I was brought up in Birkirkara, and from Valley road up to Farsons not a single house was built back then. What really scares me is the possibility of even more development”. Mentioning Ta Cenc, “It is one of the few areas people like me can go and relax in nature, where it is nice and quite, yet every time I’m there the possibility that this area could be built up creeps into my mind”.

Milky Orchid - Orkida tat-tikki

Milky Orchid – Orkida tat-tikki

Mr Bonett believes that Malta has very much become a consumer-based society and because of this, production continues to grow thus making the situation worse. “40 years ago the word environment did not even exist, so slight improvements have been seen. Over the past few months, however, we have gone backwards”.

“In my opinion, we have never had a single decent Minister for the environment, and none of them have an idea of what they are talking about. To these people, a piece of land filled with rocks and wildflowers is nothing more than an unproductive piece of land,” he said.

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 


Bees alert: it’s goodbye honey

August 17, 2013

times of malta

Bees alert: it’s goodbye honey

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I guess that while at breakfast, supper or dinner, few would pause on a bite to ruminate on how the fruits being served managed to reach their plate. So long as the plate is full, why bother!

Fruits start as flowers with different shapes, colours and smells. They often have sugary nectar and nutritious pollen to attract insect to pollinate them. On pollination a cycle of events is initiated leading to the production of seeds often shielded by a fruit, many of which we eat. An EU funded project has estimated that pollinators contribute to over €150 billion per year to the global agriculture economy, two thirds of which is pollinated by bees.

FD---0215---2008.01.31---Prunus-dulcis----Mtarfa

Bees are amongst the most noted natural pollinators

The Genesis explains how “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” But man thought otherwise, and embarked on measures to correct ‘God’s faults’ found in the ecosystem. He put chemicals on the market to do away with unwanted creatures, so that there will be more foods to ‘feed the people’, or as some may say to ‘fatten bank accounts’. Pesticides come in different forms: there are insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. All have the same aim: to kill living creatures which are unwanted, which are contributing to a lesser yield and meagre profits.

Sprayed chemical are neither target specific nor area contained and they kill not only unwanted creatures but also beneficial insects including pollinators. They also accumulate inside bodies of those who eat contaminated food. Not even man is spared.

Pollinators, mainly bees, are being decimated at an alarming rate, and in America they are falling like confetti. Fingers are pointed at mites, cell phone towers, diseases and climate change, not excluding pesticides. A Colony Collapse Disorder where entire beehives die at once, has reared its ugly head. In the United States 31.1% of managed honey bee colonies were lost during the 2012/2013 winter. In Maryland alone, close to 60% of the managed hives died during the same period.

A recent scientific study at the University of Maryland in collaboration with the US Department of Agriculture has revealed frightening facts. Pollen gathered by bees, not necessarily from the sprayed crops, has revealed a concoction of pesticides and fungicides, some samples containing more than 21 different chemicals. When eaten by bees or fed to their grubs in the hives, it weakens them against parasites. A Chemical Concoction Drama is unfolding: collapsing bee colonies. The alarming increase of dead bees is sending a clear message to mankind: ‘goodbye honey’.

While the mega pesticide producers continue to spread their chemical concoctions and genetically modified organisms, with the ‘noble’ aim of feeding the people, pollinators continue to pay the price. Most alarming is the fact that these firms have worldwide political backing. In international political fora politicians seem more like charismatic colourful puffins, who, with apologies have been labelled as always sitting in meetings, taking decisions, and doing nothing about them. When economics come in play, controlling chemical spraying is simply impossible. Don’t get in the way, bees or no bees.

This year, following strong lobby from international NGOs, and a handful of socially convinced politicians, the EU will ban for two years the use of three of the world’s most widely used pesticides. Only 15 Member States voted in favour!

Even in tiny Malta one can see workers spraying pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, both in open fields and also along road­side verges. What for?  Some of these are central or local government workers paid from public funds. Surely, there must be at least one politician who has such responsibilities in his portfolio.

China, also has its own problems. In 1980 in parts of Sichuan, the pesticides used in pear orchards wiped out the bees, to the extent that pollination had to be carried out by hand using feather brushes. Imagine a new trade of ‘flower ticklers’, whose main work would be tickling male anthers on stamens of flowers to make them deposit their pollen on a feather brush, and then slowly, gently, transporting it and depositing it to the female stigma, to eventually reach the ovary. The flower is fertilised and your fruit formation starts. How would you liked to be a bee? Beg your pardon; this may sound a bit infra dig. So how would you like to be a flower tickler? You will have the satisfaction of knowing that most of the food on our plates will be at your fingertips. BUT… with one difference. While one bee colony can pollinate up to 300m flowers a day, FOR FREE, flower ticklers have the laborious task to reach such standards for which they have to be paid, at least minimum wages.

flower-tickler

Flower ticklers – a could-be hobson choice approach toward pollination replacing natural pollinators.

Albert Einstein, said that “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live”. It is not surprising that many adjectives like fundamentalist and scaremonger were and are hurled at him. But this is also in line with another saying that insects have seen man come and they shall see man go.

If you do not want to prove Einstein right, and you do not want to be a bee, for our own sake, let bees be, honey.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com