Bad News for the Bees and for Us

Three-quarters of all honey on Earth has pesticides in it! In 2013, the European Union banned the use of three neonics on crops that are visited by bees. But because these pesticides are used to coat the seeds of crops, much of it leaches onto the soil, contaminating nearby wildflowers and other crops. Even in tiny doses, these chemicals can harm bees. “These neonicotinoids are extremely, extremely toxic, according to Edward Mitchell, the leader of the Laboratory of Soil Biology at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, they are 4 to 5,000 times more toxic than DDT.

And the problem could be even worse, according to Christopher Connolly, a neurobiologist at the University of Dundee’s School of Medicine, recent studies only tested the honey for five neonics, but crop fields are sometimes sprayed with more than 20 chemicals and bees hop from field to field, Connolly says. So the honey could contain many more pesticides.

These findings are concerning not only for bees. Even though most studies have focused on how neonics harm honeybees, these pesticides are likely to harm many more insects, including butterflies, moths, and earthworms that live in contaminated soil, Connolly says. But our ecosystems need a variety of bugs to be strong and resilient, just as our crops need a variety of pollinators to survive. If we keep using pesticides indiscriminately, “we don’t know when we can expect a tipping point,” Connolly says. “This is a very dangerous strategy for human-kind to go down.”

Country-specific effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees and wild bees

Field results confirm that neonicotinoids negatively affect pollinator health under realistic agricultural conditions. Read the full publication here.

Neonicotinoids, a class of neuro-active insecticides

Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine.The development of this class of insecticides began with work in the 1980s by Shell and the 1990s by Bayer.The neonicotinoids were developed in large part because they show reduced toxicity compared to previously used organophosphate and carbamate insecticides.Most neonicotinoids show much lower toxicity in mammals than insects, but some breakdown products are toxic.

ChEBI: The database and ontology of Chemical Entities of Biological Interest