Tainted honey spells more trouble for bees. Are we losing the battle to save them?

07 Oct 2017 1:43 PM | Anonymous member

by Larry Powell

 Three out of four samples of honey tested in a global survey released this week, were tainted with neonicotinoids, the world's most widely-used insecticide.

A honeybee forages on canola. (Almost all of the canola in Canada is grown from seed treated with "neonics.") PinP photo. 

A five-member Swiss research team tested almost two hundred honey samples from every continent except Antarctica, for the five main compounds in the "neonic family" (acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam). Several isolated islands were even included in the survey.

At least one of those compounds was found in 75% of all samples tested. (Fourty-five percent contained two or more, while ten percent showed traces of four or five.)

The levels detected were considered too low to pose a risk to people who actually eat honey. But, for adult bees, honey is their only food in winter and when flowers aren't blooming. While "neonics" may not always kill the pollinators outright, they've been shown to have "sub-lethal effects," which damage the way they grow, learn, fend off disease, navigate and reproduce.

The test results show that "neonics" are now used everywhere, and that bees, probably including thousands of wild varieties, as well, are exposed to the toxins in their food, worldwide. 

"Neonics are suspected of being a key factor for a global decline not just in honeybees," states the report, "but in pollinators, generally. And, despite some recent efforts to decrease their use - the contamination (documented in this latest research), confirms the inundation of bees and their environments with these pesticides." 

And while "neonic" levels in the honey are considered low for human consumption, the research paper also hints - that may not be the end of the story. 

"There are increasing concerns about the impact of these systemic pesticides, not only on...honey bees ....but also on...humans."

Other research has already implicated "neonics" in the declines of insectivorous birds such as swallows, probably by depriving them of the bugs they normally eat.

Another study demonstrates negative effects on the rare Japanese crested ibis. It was found to have better breeding success when "neonics" were removed from its environment.

Obviously, the concern here is, if the consequences of "neonics" can "jump" species barriers, how long can we rule out potential harm to other vertebrates, including we humans?

In Canada, three kinds of "neonics" have been detected in our waterways at levels considered harmful to important food sources for fish, birds and other animals, such as midges and mayflies.

Researchers hope a total ban such as the one France will soon introduce, may reverse "neonic" readings there, over time. But, despite a partial moratorium imposed by the EU a few years ago, readings in Europe are still among the highest.  

The report warns that "pesticide cocktails," where more than one "neonic" compound may be used at once,  "may increase harm" even more.

The researchers, headed by Edward Mitchell of the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, call on authorities to tell the public more about how many pesticides are being used in their areas, and to make that information more clearly and easily understood.

Reaction to this new research from other experts in the field, has been swift and, in some cases, angry.


Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex (above) laments, "Despite repeated warnings from scientists that they are impacting the bees, butterflies, aquatic insects and more...few governments have listened. Entire landscapes all over the world are now permeated with highly potent neurotoxins, undoubtedly contributing to the global collapse of biodiversity.

"Some of us have been pointing this out for years. It is hard not to feel a sense of deja vu: Rachel Carson was saying the same things more than 50 years ago, but we seem not to have learned any lessons. It is high time that we developed a global regulatory system for pesticides, to prevent such catastrophes being repeated over and over again."


Meanwhile, Chris Connolly of the University of Dundee,  Scotland (above), calls these latest findings “Alarming and sobering." He says "neonics" are being overused, unnecessarily and ought to be "heavily restricted." 

Dr. Connolly fears, while the chemical may not kill bees outright, it might "hinder their ability to forage on, and pollinate, our crops”

This is unsettling news, indeed, since it's often been said that "One out of every three spoons full of food we put in our mouths are made possible by pollinators!"

This latest research was published in the journal, "Science" on Thursday.