The global bee population has declined substantially over the past five years, and scientists have so far been unable to fully explain why. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon where worker bees would suddenly and inexplicably disappear from their colony, has been on the rise in North America since 2006. In 2007, Taiwanese beekeepers also began reporting higher incidences of CCD, with the phenomenon soon spreading to countries in Europe.
Although scientists are unsure of the exact reasons for CCD, recent studies from Science suggest that the declining bee population could be linked to a particular class of pesticide: neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids are a type of coating applied to seeds to kill insects. Since their release in the early 1990s, they have been increasingly embraced by farmers around the world – especially in North America. In fact, most corn seeds in the US (as well as sunflower and canola seeds) are coated with neonicotinoids before sowing, to protect them from insects.
But now researchers are suggesting that these powerful insecticides soon get absorbed by the sprouting plant’s vascular system and get expressed in nectar and pollen. When bees extract pollen from neonicotinoid-infused pollen, they bring it back to the colony where it damages their immune systems and homing abilities.
One study from the U.K. revealed that a colony whose bees consumed moderate amounts of neonicotinoid saw an 85 percent reduction in the number of queens produced. Another study carried out in France exposed bees to high amounts of the insecticide, and showed that some bees were unable to navigate back home.
Bayer CropScience, the world’s largest producer of neonicotinoids, flatly denied the validity of the studies, claiming the results were “artificially generated.”
Yet despite the controversy surrounding Bayer and its possibly harmful insecticides, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) remains steadfast in its belief neonicotinoids are relatively harmless. It approved Bayer’s insecticides back in the 1990s based on the results of Bayer’s own research studies.
Do you think there could be a strong link between neonicotinoids and declining bee populations? Do you think the EPA should ban their use until further third party research is conducted?
Image CC licensed by Danny Jensen