Two New Studies Show Neonicotinoid Pesticides Harm Bees

Newhaircut/CC BY 2.0

Yesterday I posted about some beekeepers' negative reactions to Bayer CropScience's charm offensive. Given the mounting evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides can cause bee deaths, I argued, Bayer was going to have a hard time convincing many in the beekeeping community of their altruistic intentions.

And that was before I even read the latest news, reported over at NPR, that two new research studies published in Science have implicated non-lethal doses of neonicotinoids in severely disrupting bees normal reproductive and navigational behavior:

In the first study, researchers at the University of Stirling, in the United Kingdom, exposed bumblebees to low, "field-realistic" levels of a neonicotinoid insecticide called imidacloprid. The bumblebees didn't die, but in a remarkable and unexpected development, they almost stopped making new queen bees.

In the second study, carried out in France, honeybees that were exposed to another nicotinoid seemed less able to navigate, and many never found their way back to their home hive. This study, however, exposed the bees to higher levels of pesticide, probably higher than most bees encounter in the real world.

For their part, NPR reports that Bayer responded with a critique of "artificially generated" results that don't match actual field conditions for bees. And manipulation of science is something that Bayer can claim to have some knowledge about. The original safety testing for Bayer's clothianaidin involved placing four hives in just 2.5 acres of treated canola, which in turn were surrounded by thousands of acres of untreated canola. Given that bees forage over many thousands of acres, it seems fair to say that these results were as "artificially generated" as they come.

Once again, it might be time to start focusing on something other than chemical fixes. From tough love beekeeping and survivor genes to the beauty of urban beekeeping, there are answers beyond the chemical armory if we know where to look. Meanwhile the calls for a neonicotinoid ban are only likely to grow.

Tags: Agriculture | Bees | Colony Collapse Disorder | Corporate Responsibility | Insects

Best of TreeHugger