The death rate jumped to 35 per cent for farms with less than 10 bee colonies, according to the report published by the ESA agricultural agency. But larger farms with 50 or more colonies fared slightly better, losing 28 percent of their bees.
France’s national beekeepers union, the UNAF, has expressed grave concern. “This data only pertains to a four-month period” during winter, it said. According to the union, bee colonies normally see this death rate of 30 percent over the course of a whole year.
Pesticides to blame?
“We urge the government to decrease our agriculture’s dependence on pesticides,” UNAF president Gilles Lanio said in a statement.
Paris took a step in this direction last month in September when it banned neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides found to be toxic to honeybees.
The move was hailed by beekeepers and environmentalists, who point out that the decline in the bee population – due to a number of factors, including pesticides – disrupts pollination, having a knock-off effect on agriculture and the environment.
But some farmers have opposed the ban, arguing it may lead to lower yields and make their crops less competitive with imported produce.
Public health agency Anses has responded to these worries by saying there are “sufficiently effective and operational” alternatives to the majority of neonicotinoids. Farmers' union Fnsea has asked for exemptions for maize and beets, claiming these crops are particularly vulnerable to insects.