Austrian fruit grower jailed for killing bees

An Austria fruit grower was handed a rare prison sentence Wednesday for having illegally spread an insecticide which led to the deaths of dozens of neighbouring bee colonies.

Austrian fruit grower jailed for killing bees
File image of honeybees at an apiary in Florida. Photo: AFP

The 47-year-old man had spread a powerful insecticide called chlorpyrifos over his trees in the Lavanttal area of Carinthia province, at a time when their blossoms were still attracting bees.

More than 50 colonies belonging to two neighbouring apiarists perished.

The court in the city of Klagenfurt found the fruit grower guilty of “deliberately damaging the environment”, pointing to his experience and role in training others in his field as evidence that he knew the consequences of his actions.

He was sentenced to a year in prison, of which four months will be without probation. Ordered to pay more than €20,000 ($23,500) in compensation, he said he will appeal.

The court said it hoped the sentence would serve as a deterrent and to remind others that the “use of pesticides needs to strike a balance between the environment and economics”.

The widespread use of pesticides has been blamed for a steep rise in deaths among bees and other pollinating insects. In April the EU voted to outlaw the use of certain pesticides from the neonicotinoid family blamed for killing off bee populations.


No work for Vienna’s fiaker horses during heatwaves

The Austrian parliament is set to pass a new law making it illegal for fiaker carriage horses to work in temperatures of 35C and above.

No work for Vienna’s fiaker horses during heatwaves
Photo: Paul Gillingwater

The two-horse carriages are a popular and romantic way for tourists to explore central Vienna, especially during the summer months, and are as recognisably Viennese as the Giant Ferris Wheel in the Prater.

Lawmakers are set to amend the fiaker carriage law on Thursday, so that it places a greater emphasis on protecting the horses. Animal welfare councillor Ulli Sima (SPÖ) and environment spokesperson for the Greens Rüdiger Maresch said that it will ensure that no horse is made to work when the thermometer hits 35C.

Other measures which are intended to protect the horse’s welfare are also being introduced and include finishing an hour earlier (previously working hours for fiaker horses were from 10am to 9pm), having every other day off, and regular health and fitness check-ups to ensure the animals are fit enough to work.

Fiaker drivers must also be able to prove that their horses have been correctly trained and have the right temperament to be a working horse.

Last July, Salzburg's own Fiaker drivers suspended work for their horses when temperatures reached 35 degrees C (95 degrees F.)

The Vienna Tierschutzverein (animal welfare society) has praised the amendment, although fiaker drivers say that their business will suffer massively as a result of the stricter rules.  

“For years, animal rights activists have been campaigning by spreading pseudo-scientific falsehoods against fiaker entrepreneurs. In this way they are discrediting an entire business sector which has been active in the city for hundreds of years, has a lot of experience with horses, and has significantly contributed to a positive worldview of Vienna,” says Martina Michelfeit, spokeswoman for fiaker drivers in the Vienna Economic Chamber.