Thousands of Europeans support Save Bees and Farmers campaign

Do you have any idea how many products that we use daily are dependent on bees and pollinators in general? With the alarming decline in insect populations thousands of people are coming together from across the European Union to call for a bee-friendly agriculture to the benefit of farmers, health and the environment. The Save Bees and Farmers campaign aims to get the European Commission to propose legal acts to phase out synthetic pesticides which are killing insects and adversely affecting people’s health by 2035, to restore biodiversity, and to support farmers in the transition. I spoke to Jan Skalík, from Friends of the Earth, Czech Republic about the decline in insect populations and the aim of the Save Bees and Farmers campaign. 

“Bees are threatened mainly by pesticides and chemicals used in our agriculture and partly also in forestry. These chemicals have lowered the population of different species of insects all over Europe and particularly also in the Czech Republic. And insects that pollinate our crops are crucial for food stability in Europe.”

Have bees been harder hit than other insects?

“This appeal is not just about bees, but pollinators in general, which have decreased dramatically. The problem has grown even worse due to the common agricultural policy in recent years which has led farmers to use higher amounts of pesticides.”

Can you explain why pollinators are of crucial importance? What would be the impact on the food chain?

Jan Skalík,  photo: archive of Masaryk University Brno

“We have tried to show this visually in some shops. We recently marked international Day Without Pesticides and we reached out to shops and e-shops in the Czech Republic asking them to label products that are dependent on pollinators and would be wiped out if pollinators are not present. It is a significant amount – about 75 percent of all natural products. And the shops that took part in the campaign had to put stickers on nearly every product –showing that they wouldn’t be there without bees and other pollinators.”

Do you think that people were surprised by the amount of products dependent on pollinators?

“Oh, yes. Actually the idea came from New York where shops actually took the products dependent on pollinators off their shelves which pretty much emptied the shops and people were really, really shocked by this. And that is pretty much like the reaction that we got here from people who visited the shops or e-shops.”

How many Czech shops joined in?

“It was mostly shops selling natural products with five to ten of them participating fully, and then there were shops which supported the initiative but could not participate fully because of the coronavirus restrictions. But I think it is a complex issue – it is not just about taking products off the shelves. The solution is political and relates to the common agricultural policy, the need to sustain and support organic agriculture. That is the goal we are striving for and next year we want to reach out to more shops to spread public awareness of the problem and we hope their participation will be much bigger.”

So you are hoping to collect a million signatures so as to get the European Commission to debate this matter?

Photo: Štěpánka Budková

“That’s right. The signatures are being collected around Europe –right now we have collected several thousand in the Czech Republic – but altogether we have more than 400,000 signatures from different European states and we hope to reach one million signatures by next spring. So our Save Bees and Farmers campaign is very active in many European states.”

What exactly are you hoping that the European Commission will do?

“Basically the main focus is on pesticides, because the amounts of pesticides used harm the ability of insects to survive and help our food production by pollination. So the goal is to get the Commission to work towards reducing the amount of pesticides by up to 80 percent by 2030 and avoid the most harmful cocktails of pesticides where the effects are not yet well known but which seem to be very dangerous. Also the campaign focuses on recovering biodiversity in the agricultural area and support for farmers whom we see as people who are key to the recovery of the countryside. We need to support especially small farmers who do not grow GMO crops which are particularly dependent on higher use of pesticides.”

What is the situation with bee colonies in the Czech Republic? Are they dwindling?

“Well, in actual fact, the situation with bees is not so critical in the Czech Republic because quite a lot of people keep bees and there is significant support for bee-keeping in society, so things are not as bad as in some other European countries, but the goal is pan-European and as regards pollinators in general the population of different species is decreasing really fast here as well because of our landscape – very large fields which are about eight times higher than the European average –the agro business is big in this country  and that significantly affects the population of pollinators.”

Can you see the decline in pollinators with the “naked eye” so to speak, without actually seeing statistics?

“Absolutely. I think every Czech person would tell you that in the past when they drove their car in the countryside their license plate and windscreen was covered with insects but now our cars are clean –no insects. I think that is something we can all see.”

What can individuals who care about this problem do to support this initiative?

“I would say that your behaviour as a consumer is important as well. So if you buy and support organic products that are properly certified as products of organic agriculture, than that significantly helps, because organic farming is friendly to pollinators, but from the political standpoint, they can visit the website Save Bees and Farmers where our demands are listed and which people can support. Currently there are 399,000 signatures in its support and if we manage to collect one million by next spring then that would be great because the European Parliament would have to take it seriously.”