Colony Collapse Disorder: New Study Says Pesticides Are Killing Off Honeybees

Sal holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

What’s killing the world’s honeybees?

Since 2006, when scientists and beekeepers first reported colony collapse disorder (CCD), the global bee epidemic, blame-fingers have been wagged at a line-up of disparate suspects.

Varroa mites, malnutrition, environmental stressors like habitat loss, even cell phone radiation—each has been stamped the villain by one study or another.

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We can't help the bees until we know what's killing them. (Photo: Ali Jarekji/Reuters)

Now, even though another new study assigns culpability to one of the world’s most commonly used pesticides, neonicotinoid, government officials in the United Kingdom are still not ready to make definitive claims.

According to the study, published in the science journal Toxicology, “the effects on bees of two pesticides, imidacloprid and thiacloprid, have previously been underestimated and may explain the decline in bee populations.”

Beyond Pesticides explains the study:

Due to a flaw in standard risk assessments, which consider toxic effects at fixed exposure times, the risks posed by the neonicotinoid pesticides imidacloprid and thiacloprid are likely to be underestimated. The authors believe that minute quantities of imidicloprid may be playing a much larger role in killing bees over extended periods of time than previously thought.

Imidacloprid was banned in France when it was suspected of causing the decline of honeybees in the late 1990s.

The new study has fueled calls to ban pesticides in the U.K. from environmental groups, like Buglife and the Soil Association.

"This new information adds to the growing body of evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides even at extremely low levels in our environment could still negatively impact on U.K. wildlife including pollinators, soil organisms and aquatic invertebrates," said Vicky Kindemba, a Buglife campaigner, to The Ecologist.

One third of the U.S. diet—that’s roughly $15 billion—can be traced back to insect-pollinated plants, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture.

Of these plants, 80 percent are pollinated by honeybees, including apples, nuts, and strawberries.

“If the honeybee disappeared off the surface of the globe forever, we’d be facing up to an unimaginable food crisis,” a spokesman from the Soil Association told The Ecologist.

Despite the new study, a representative from the United Kingdom’s Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs told The Ecologist that the country will not be following some other EU countries in restricting the use of neonicotinoids.

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