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Ban Neonicotinoid Pesticides to Save the Honeybee

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Fresh evidence links neonicotinoid pesticides to death of the honeybees and spurs calls for banning the pesticides

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho January 24, 2011                Institute of Science in Society

Increase vulnerability to infection at minute doses

The honeybee’s vulnerability to infection is increased by the presence of imidacloprid, even at the most microscopic doses. This new research result by Dr Jeffrey Pettis and his team at the US Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory has remained unpublished for nearly two years, according to an ‘exclusive’ report in UK’s newspaper, The Independent [1]. Increased disease infection happened even when the levels of the insecticide were so tiny that they could not be detected in the bees that the researchers had dosed.

The neonicotinoid insecticides, introduced since the early 1990s, are increasingly used on crops in the US, Britain and around the world. Bayer, the German chemicals giant that developed the insecticides insists that they are safe for bees if used properly, but they have already been widely linked to bee losses. Imidacloprid was Bayer’s top-selling insecticide in 2009, earning the company £510 m.

Link to colony collapse of the honeybee

Neonicotinoids have attracted growing controversy since their introduction by Bayer in the 1990s, and have been blamed by some beekeepers and environmental campaigners as a potential cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), first observed in the US in 2006, in which bees disappear from hives en mass (see [2] Mystery of Disappearing Honeybees, SiS 34). Prof. Joe Cummins at ISIS was among the first to link neonicotinoid insecticides to CCD ([3] Requiem for the Honeybee , SiS 34); which had led to swift action on the part of the German Government in banning the pesticides ([4] Emergency Pesticide Ban for Saving the Honeybee, SiS 39).

Between 20 and 40 per cent of American hives have been affected, and CCD has since been observed in several other countries from France to Taiwan, though it has not yet been detected in Britain [1], where the area of cropland treated with neonicotinoids has gone from 0 in 1993 to more than 2.5 m acres in 2008.

Neonicotinoids bans

The chemicals have been banned already in France, Germany and Italy. In Britain, the Co-op has banned their use in farms from which it sources fruit and vegetables, but the British Government has refused to ban or suspend them.

Buglife director, Matt Shardlow, commented on the Pettis study: “This new research from America confirms that at very, very low concentrations neonicotinoid chemicals can make a honeybee vulnerable to fatal disease. If these pesticides are causing large numbers of honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies and moths to get sick and die from diseases they would otherwise have survived, then neonicotinoid chemicals could be the main cause of both colony collapse disorder and the loss of wild pollinator populations.

“The weight of evidence against neonicotinoids is becoming irresistible – Government should act now to ban the risky uses of these toxins.”

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