(Beyond Pesticides, January 18, 2018) Research published in early January 2018 has shown that — despite a partial ban on neonicotinoid insecticides instituted in 2014 — 25% of British honey is still contaminated with residue of these “potent, bee-killing” pesticides. The partial ban, which extended to flowering crops, such as oilseed rape (from which canola oil is made), was instituted by the European Union (EU) in response to evidence of serious threats to bee populations. Samples for this study came from beekeepers and were each from a single location.
After the partial ban went into effect, scientists had seen some reduction in the contamination rate of neonicotinoids in honey, from greater than 50% prior to the ban. This study demonstratesthat these powerful pesticides nevertheless remain common in agricultural areas, posing serious threats to bees (and other pollinators). This discovery is likely to accelerate pressure on the EU to ban all outdoor use of neonicotinoids, with a vote coming perhaps as soon as in the next few months. “While the frequency of neonicotinoid contaminated samples fell once the EU ban was in place, our data suggest that these pesticides remain prevalent in the farming environment,” said Ben Woodcock, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Neonicotinoids are insecticides that affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death; thus, they are sometimes called “neurotoxins”. There is major concern about their role in pollinator decline. Neonicotinoids can be persistent in the environment, and when used as seed treatments, translocate to residues in pollen and nectar of treated plants. Despite these risks, they have come into extremely wide usage and therefore, have put pollinators at considerable risk.
Just a few months prior to the research on British honey, a different research project, published by the journal Science in October 2017, looked at pesticide residue in honey from every continent except Antarctica. It concluded that these chemicals, ubiquitous in the honey samples collected, represent a major risk to bees (and pollinators broadly). Because bees forage widely in their pursuit of nectar and pollen, they are regarded as excellent barometers of the degree of pesticide pollution in their range landscapes.