The research will try to identify the amount of pesticides bees come in contact with and their possible effects by collecting the pollen attached to their bodies, Chen said.
He said he has also started a trial with the council to help beekeepers apply organic pesticides made of oxalic acid and thymol to improve bees’ living environment.
Chien Wu-yen, owner of the Move-Bee farm in New Taipei City (新北市), which has about 9 million bees, said his bee population has been relatively stable in the past few years.
However, there have been years when a third of his bees would disappear after being released to a farm that had just been sprayed with pesticides, or other factors.
“I don’t know if it is the exposure to pesticides or bad weather that the bees are more vulnerable to,” Chien said. “My experience suggests there can be big fluctuations in their production when either factor is an issue.”
Such confusion, or at least uncertainty, is at the heart of the scientists’ discontent toward the government, which they said does not seem to have a firm grasp of the situation.
The council does not keep scientific data on bees, and studies on the subject are the scientists’ sole responsibility, Yang said.
Tsai denied the charge, pointing to the government’s detailed figures, and said fluctuations in bee health was normal.
“Bees are just like troops. It’s normal that we have strong troops and occasionally weaker troops,” he said.
Tsai said there was no need to panic over suspected bee disappearance because bees are better tended to in Taiwan than in the US, where they are used on such an extensive scale that their conditions can easily escape the attention of beekeepers.
Other insects, such as butterflies, can also replace bees’ role in agriculture, Tsai said.
He added that the council was considering introducing foreign bees to breed better-quality offspring.
That initiative appears strange to Yang, who said the government was missing the point.
“Stronger bees do not solve the problem of pesticide-led intoxication and its impact on our ecosystem,” he said. “The government is not willing to acknowledge the significance of weaker bees because it does not care about the issue.”
For Wu and his fellow beekeepers, the debate between government authorities and academics only detracts from their daily struggle and finding the answers to what they describe as their constant tug-of-war with nature.
“So far, the industry has had to rely largely on traditional wisdom whenever a situation arises,” Wu said. “Hopefully beekeepers, scientists and government officials can establish a stronger partnership to address the issue more effectively.”