Are Pesticides The Reason So Many Bees Are Dying?

 

Could pesticides called neonicotinoids be the reason for the ongoing dramatic decline in the honeybee population? Last year was the fifth in a row that one third of US honeybee colonies did not survive the winter. Since 2006, the American bee population has been steadily declining, from 4.5 million honey-producing hives to 860,000, and the numbers are still going down.

Worldwide, honeybees pollinate 90 different commercial crops from fruits and vegetables (apples, oranges, strawberries, onions and carrots) to nuts, sunflowers, coffee, soya beans and clovers (including alfalfa, which is used to cattle feed) and cotton. Whether we know it or not, we depend on honeybees. Indeed, bees pollinate over 70 percent of food crops around the globe.

Pesticides made by the agricultural company Bayer have been tied to the global destruction of bee populations. Among those pesticides are neonicotinoids, which were developed, with all good intentions, as a “better” alternative to DDT, which was banned in 1972. But neonicotinoids are on average 7,000 times more toxic than DDT.

As Monica Potts at Grist notes, research by Jeffrey Pettis, the United States Department of Agriculture’s lead bee researcher, suggests that neonicotinoids are not “safer.” According to Pettis’ research,

…neonicotinoids, from pre-coated seeds or treated crops, ooze out through the nectar, pollen, and water of plants like cotton and corn. Honeybees and other natural pollinators eat it, and even undetectable amounts most likely weaken their immune systems and make them susceptible to harmful pathogens they would be able to fight off when healthy.

Potts also notes that, even though Pettis’ research suggests a link between neonicotinoids and the decline in the US bee population, he himself shies away from drawing “a straight causal line between the demonstrably harmful chemical to Colony Collapse Disorder,” the five-or-six-years phenomenon of huge swaths of the North American and European honeybee population dying off in the winter. Pettis instead suggests that pesticides, along with habitat destruction and other environmental problems, are “contributing factors” in the deaths of so many bees. But, due to variables including the size and mobility of bee populations, no one has yet uncovered a direct link between pesticides and bee deaths; it’s hoped that long-term studies might yield more evidence.

Nonetheless, Germany, France and Slovenia have banned the use of neonicotinoids and the UK is considering such a ban. Why doesn’t the US invoke the European “precautionary principle” and simply take the chemicals off the market, especially in view of the continuing decline of the bee population? Why in the US  does the Environmental Protection Agency have to wait for the harmful effects of pesticides to become all too evident, rather than study and publicize those effects before allowing these chemicals to infiltrate the environment?

 

Related Care2 Coverage

Is This EPA-Approved Pesticide A Bee Killer?

EPA Memo Shows Pesticide Harms Bees

Teaching Beekeeping to Children Improves Behavior

Honey Laundering May Mask Dangerous Contaminants

 

Photo by Kiki Flickr

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72 comments

Yulan Lawson
Yulan Lawson3 years ago

It's one of the reasons. No bees, no food.

John Turner
John Turner4 years ago

Absolutely ban unnatural pesticides!

Jim S.
Jim S.4 years ago

Unless and until we can make safe, nutritious artificial foods, we absolutely NEED the bees!
Ban the current pesticides and develop safe alternatives. NOW!

Zoe B.
Zoe B.4 years ago

Good on you, Jennifer. More people need to stop with the apathy, and educate themselves about bees.

Jennifer P.
Jennifer P.4 years ago

We had a bee hive in our backyard and searched high and low to find a local beekeeper to rescue the hive. Not easy to find in Orange County CA. But we found one, and she rescued all the bees and removed the honey combs so they wouldn't return. Bees are such amazing little creatures, and so important! I learned from the beekeeper that not only do bees make honey, they eat it. I will occasionally find an exhausted bee on the ground, or on my car... I run in the house, get my jar of honey, and put some on a little plate and coax the bee over to the honey. It is fascinating to watch them drink their fill and then groom themself like a cat! You can almost see the energy returning to their tiny body. It revives them, and soon they are on their merry way! My sister calls me Queen Bee because I save all the bees I can!

Steve Andrews
Steve Andrews4 years ago

Genetically engineered crops like soya contain toxins that cannot be having a good effect on the bees too in my opinion!

Cal O.
Cal O.4 years ago

Super article. Pesticides are indeed a culprit as noted in my new book The Healing Powers of Honey...and a few other theories by scientists to beekeepers. While this problem is being worked on as I type, it is a problem and more people need to become aware of the vital role the honey bee plays in our food chain and future.
www.calorey.com

Beth H.
beth Hall4 years ago

Great article. Thanks.

Helle H.
Helle H.4 years ago

Signed.

Ellen Mccabe
ellen m.4 years ago

CCS is a horrible thing, and we must find the cause(s)!!!