It’s been talked about quite a bit in recent years: The EU has banned neonicotinoid-based pesticides over concerns that they’re causing widespread honeybee deaths, but research has been inconclusive—until now. Researchers say there’s a conclusive link between at least one class of neonics and honeybee deaths.
Called imidacloprid, the neonic pesticide is believed to be the cause of increased mortality rates among bees, cites new research by the Food and Environment Research Agency in the U.K.
The study looked at imidacloprid use over an 11-year period. The chemical pesticide is applied directly to seeds during planting, and stays present in the crop as it grows. Bees who were exposed to the crops treated with imidacloprid had mortality rates 10 percent higher than those with low or no exposure to the pesticide.
“This is one of the most compelling cases yet for the fact that neonics are harming bees,” Paul Towers, a spokesperson for Pesticide Action Network, wrote in an email to TakePart. “Researchers in this study looked in particular at canola grown in the U.K., but the same lessons can be applied to the millions of acres of corn and soy planted in [the U.S.] that are also coated with this bee-harming pesticide.”
Previous studies have linked neonics with bee deaths, but they were criticized, reports TakePart, because “they didn’t reflect what bees would encounter in real-life scenarios.”
Manufacturers of neonics, including Syngenta, have said that their chemicals are not responsible for colony collapse disorder, the name for the mysterious death of honeybee colonies. Other culprits include the Varroa destructor, a mite that infects bee colonies, particularly those already destabilized by malnourished bees. While chemical companies point to the mites as one of the leading causes of bee deaths, Towers told TakePart that mites have existed for a long time, and may only be preying on the bees after pesticide exposure weakens their immunity.
“No doubt [mites] play a role in overall declines, but the evidence suggests pesticides are the driving factor, and declines are consistent with their wide-scale introduction in the mid-2000s,” he said.
To date, bee colony populations have declined by one-third. They pollinate about $15 billion worth of crops annually, contributing about one out of every three bites of food.
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Honeybee colony image via Shutterstock