Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Honey

A Worldwide Survey

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
November 23, 2017

A new study in the journal Science found neonicotinoid pesticides in 75 percent of honey samples from around the world. The honey samples contained neonicotinoids (neonics) at levels known harm to bees and other insect pollinators. Although numerous studies have documented the harmful effects of these pesticides on pollinators in specific locations, until now, scientists lacked a worldwide view.

A beekeeper inspects a beehive - Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Honey - A Worldwide Survey

In this study, scientists at the University of Neuchâtel, in collaboration with the Botanical Garden of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, produced a world map of neonicotinoid contamination. To gather data for this worldwide picture, they matched the wide foraging characteristics of honey bees with the planetary reach of the citizen science movement.

Neonictotinoids: A Growing Threat to Pollinators

Neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides in the world. Unlike older insecticides, neonics are not usually sprayed on the plants, but applied to plant seed. The pesticide becomes part of the plant’s tissues. Bees then feed on the plant’s contaminated pollen and nectar. Even tiny amounts of ingested neonicotinoids attack the bees’ nervous systems and cause damage to their movement, learning, and memory capabilities. This is a direct threat to human food security because roughly one-third of all food crops require healthy and effective pollinators.

Honey bee on a kale flower - Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Honey

How Foraging Honey Bees Encounter Pesticides

Thousands of honey bees collect most of their nectar and pollen within 2–6 km (1–4 mi) of the beehive. To gather the necessary nectar and pollen for the hive’s survival, the bees visit up to four million flowers per year in this radius. So, the honey is a condensed record of any pesticide residues in the the flowers in a 100 square kilometre (39 sq mi) area around the beehive. Advanced analytic chemistry techniques can then detect those residues to a parts per billion (ppb) sensitivity.

The Survey: Citizen Scientists and Advanced Analytic Chemistry Techniques

To undertake the survey, scientists at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland enlisted the assistance of the Botanical Garden of Neuchâtel. From November 2012 to February 2016, over 100 international garden associates (citizen scientists) supplied samples of honey from every occupied continent in the world. The 198 honey samples, each listed with the country, province, region, locality, and GPS coordinates of their place of origin, provided a broad representation of planet biomes and geography.

World Map Showing Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Honey -

Honey samples included 37 from Africa, 41 from Asia, 53 from Europe, 22 from North America, 28 from South and Central America, and 17 from Australia and the associated islands of Oceania. The scientists analyzed each sample for the five most commonly used neonicotinoids: acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam.

Video: Pesticides in Honey Around the World (by Science Magazine)

Results: Widespread Prevalence of Neonics in Honey Samples

Overall, the scientists found residue of at least one neonicotinoid pesticide in 75 percent of the honey samples. Advanced analytic chemistry techniques measured the average concentration of the neonicotinoids to be 1.8 ng/g (nanograms per gram). This is below the European Union’s maximum residue level for food products, but above the amount demonstrated to cause negative neurological effects on bees and other pollinators. Contamination levels were highest in North America (86%), Asia (80%), and Europe (79%). Forty-five percent of the samples tested positive for two or more neonicotinoids.

Local honey samples obtained for the survey from the Fraser Valley near Chilliwack, British Columbia, showed concentrations of two neonicotinoids—clothianidin and thiamethoxam—that exceeded levels known to cause detrimental effects to pollinators.

Honey samples from British Columbia showed concentrations of neonicotinoids that exceeded levels known to cause detrimental effects to pollinators.

The Harmful Effects of Neonics

Bees on a honeycomb - Neonicotinoid Pesticides in HoneyThe widespread prevalence of neonicotinoids in honey samples from around the world is deeply disturbing. Many studies have reported the following harmful effects on bees and other pollinators in the concentrations found in the samples: neurological and cognitive disorders, reduced immune efficiency, diminished foraging ability, damaged reproductive function, and decreased homing ability. One aspect of these harmful effects should be underscored: Reduced immunity makes the bees more vulnerable to mites, bacteria, and viruses.

The Way Forward

The evidence indicates that neonicotinoids now contaminate the entire biosphere, and are a continuing root cause of the rapid decline of bees and other beneficial insects. With neonic contamination in 86 percent of honey samples from North America, the path is clear. To protect its pollinators, Canada should follow the precautionary principle and ban neonicotinoids.

A mix of wildflowers to attract bees - Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Honey.

How You Can Help Pollinators

1) Send a letter to the Minister of Health asking for a ban on neonicotinoids in Canada.

2) When buying plants or seeds, ask if your nursery or garden supplier if the plants have been treated with neonicotinoids.

3) Avoid using neonicotinoid-based garden products. To tell if a product contains them, check the label for imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam. The Center for Food Safety publishes a list of products that contain neonicotinoids.

4) Start a bee garden with native plants and habitat to nurture bees and wild pollinators.

More articles:

Where Have All the Bees Gone?Where Have All the Bees Gone? Clues to the Disappearance of a Vital Pollinator

Grow a Climate Change Resilient GardenGrow a Climate Change Resilient Garden

10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens

2 Responses leave one →
  1. 2018 May 29
    Geoff Seers permalink

    I am staggered at the size of this problem, it is going to take a lot of work from a lot of people to straighten it out.

  2. 2018 January 16
    edan.north permalink

    I think there is a real growing concern surrounding the food we and our children and also our
    family pets eat. I support learning more and staying healthy for life.

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