Read the Label Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) – Championing Bees

Q&A with Roger Poole (Chairman: Timber Industry Pesticide Working Group)

Where did the idea of combining the messages of ‘read the label’ with the plight of bees come from?
This SOP was inspired by a CropLife SA article in the 2nd 2019 edition of the Crop Circular entitled “Canola Insecticides and Bee Safety Alert”. The article really hit home the impact poor pesticide use can have on bees and got me thinking about how important the simple act of “reading the label” really is. Using pesticides without reading the label is like letting a child play with a loaded revolver, there are so many ways in which it is almost certain to go wrong.

Pesticides in general have a bad reputation, with media reports often giving the impression that pesticides themselves are the problem, when in fact it is almost always the user. For me, the real tragedy is that most pesticide-based environmental disasters could have easily been averted if the user had simply read the label. This is certainly the case with the two examples of mass-bee die-offs given in the CropLife SA article.

Why is the ‘read the label’ message so important?
To ‘read the label’ is such a basic requirement of pesticide use, that to need a SOP may seem like stating the obvious and thus overkill. However, as we have seen from the pesticide-related bee disasters that have resulted in other agricultural sectors, there are still those who are not reading the label.

The labels contain all the necessary information a pesticide user needs to know in order to use it correctly, safely and effectively, while minimising the potential environmental impacts it may have. As such, it is a fundamental responsibility of all pesticide users and one that should be continually reiterated.

One of TIPWG’s key objectives is to promote the effective and responsible use of pesticides, reading the label is the foundation stone of this. By reiterating this message via a SOP, there can be no confusion that as an industry, ‘Reading the Label’ is what we expect of our members.

Why choose to champion bees?
Again, the CropLife SA article, which threw down the gauntlet to CropLife SA members to do more for bees, was a source of inspiration. There are also strong ties between forestry and bees, the best honey (I believe) is from hives situated in Eucalyptus plantations and these can be found within the landholdings of many of FSA members. In fact, through championing bees many of FSA members are also supporting neighbouring communities as a result of honey harvesting initiatives and opening their compartments up to local beekeepers.

Beyond that, while all species are equal, we – the human race – rely on some more heavily than others. Bees are top of that list. The dramatic global decline in bee populations should have us shaking in our boots.

In terms of global crises, it is up there with climate change. 70% of the food we eat is pollinated predominantly by bees, they help keep biodiversity ticking over by pollinating wild plants and their honey has many medicinal properties (as well as being a pantry staple). Life without bees would be difficult to imagine but could become a reality. We all have a responsibility to reverse the decline. The SOP provided a platform where we could remind members of the bee’s plight and how they could help reverse the decline. Global issues often appear insurmountable, but if we all do our part then these issues can be addressed – we just need to start acting on the issues and contributing how we can, rather than waiting for a global solution that is unlikely to come.

What do you want to see as a result of this SOP?
Obviously, it is meant to inspire all within the sector to always read the label. This is not something that is easily measured, but I guess one way of ensuring it is done is by not having any pesticide-related incidents in the sector that could have been averted by simply reading the label.

We would also love to see the forestry sector take up the challenge and become champions of bees. For them to look at the products they are using and opt for products, application methods and application timings that will have the least impact on bees. We would also love to see the establishment of bee gardens across the forestry landscape, as this is a simple way to make a huge difference.

Going beyond that, we would love the SOP to inspire members to take the message home. We presented it to NCT Forestry Staff on World Bee Day and it has been great to hear how they are adopting a more ‘bee-friendly’ approach in their homes. This is a message we would love to see go beyond the forestry community and be spread across the agricultural sector, which is why we were thrilled by CropLife SA’s request to add the SOP to their website.

TIPWG CropLife SA Partnership?
TIPWG is a proud partner of CropLife SA and extremely excited about the SOP featuring on the CropLife SA website. We see it as an opportunity to promote a very important message to a sector that we are proud to be a part of. Pesticides, and as a result, the agri-forestry sector are often blamed for the demise of the bees.

Certainly, the inappropriate use of pesticides is a key contributing factor. Yet on the most part, our members use pesticides sparingly, responsibly and only when necessary. This is a message we need to start communicating; however, we also need to show we walk-the-walk and are not just all talk. Having SOP’s like this one, actively driving initiatives to help reverse the decline, I feel is a good way of showing how, as a sector, we want to do everything in our power to help save the bees.

The SOP is available here.

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