Purchasing local honey is one way to help support struggling honey bee populations—but it may not be the healthiest, says a new study. That’s because 70 percent of recent honey samples were found to contain traces of at least one controversial pesticide.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Chemistry, looked at honey samples that were collected during spring and summer months from bees in Massachusetts.
Researchers found an overwhelming presence of neonicotinoids—a class of pesticides strongly linked to colony collapse disorder, which is wiping out bee colonies across the globe. Neonics are so controversial that the European Union has temporarily banned them from use in an effort to reverse or slow the declining honey bee populations.
"Data from this study clearly demonstrated the ubiquity of neonicotinoids in pollen and honey samples that bees are exposed to during the seasons when they are actively foraging across Massachusetts," Chensheng (Alex) Lu, one of the researchers, said in a news release. "Levels of neonicotinoids that we found in this study fall into the ranges that could lead to detrimental health effects in bees, including CCD."
While the research only looked at Massachusetts, its implications are widespread, as neonic pesticides are among the most common agricultural pesticides. "The data presented in this study should serve as a basis for public policy that aims to reduce neonicotinoid exposure," said Lu.
Honey bees and other pollinators are responsible for pollinating as much as one-third of major food crops. Without the work honey bees perform for free, important foods not only could become more scarce, but considerably more expensive. And while purchasing honey does support the bee industry, the exposure to pesticides may have human health risks. Neonicotinoids have been shown to potentially disrupt human brain development.
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Honey bees image via Shutterstock