Neonics Causing Bee Collapse with ‘Limited to No Benefit’ for Farmers

By Alex Pietrowski

For over the last decade, beekeepers and scientists have been documenting the decline of important pollinators such as honeybees. This decline poses a huge threat to the food supply, because without pollinators some crops wouldn’t exist, while others would suffer in crop output and quality. Losing the bees would be an indicator that we are next to go.

The American Beekeeping Federation offers some insight:

As honey bees gather pollen and nectar for their survival, they pollinate crops such as apples, cranberries, melons and broccoli. Some crops, including blueberries and cherries, are 90-percent dependent on honey bee pollination; one crop, almonds, depends entirely on the honey bee for pollination at bloom time.

For many others, crop yield and quality would be greatly reduced without honey bee pollination. In fact, a 1999 Cornell University study documented that the contribution made by managed honey bees hired by U.S. crop growers to pollinate crops amounted to just over $14.6 billion.

Now, two new studies reiterate that the overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides – neonics, for short – may be contributing to bee colony collapse.

Prevalence of Neonic-treated Seeds

Genetically-modified seeds pre-treated with neonics, particularly corn, soy and canola, are now the norm in the US. Farmers can do very little to change this trend, considering that about 90% or more of these three major crops are genetically modified.

Because neonicotinoid pesticides are water soluble and are absorbed into the plant as it grows, they affect both pests and beneficial insects, such as bees. As the plants grows, residues of neonics make their way into nectar and pollen, thus posing a risk to the bees. Neonics are derived from nicotine and act as a poison to the nervous system to .

Study #1 – Bees Do Not Avoid Neonics

Certain insects are repelled by neonics, but one of the new studies shows that bees will not avoid plants grown from treated seeds. Researchers in the UK performed a test where they offered bees a plain sucrose solution and one with neonics. They found that the bees wouldn’t avoid the neonics mixture, and what was more shocking is that they preferred it over the simple sucrose solution. The researchers concluded that:

This work shows that bees cannot control their exposure to neonicotinoids in foods and implies that treating flowering crops with [the common neonicotinoids] IMD and TMX presents a sizeable hazard to foraging bees.” 

Study #2 – Insecticidal Use Poses Threat to Wild Bees

In another study, researcher Maj Rundlof and his colleagues looked for negative effects on populations of wild bees, bumblebees and honeybees that were feeding on flowering canola plants grown from seeds treated with neonics. The researchers wanted to show the effect of neonics on bees in a real-world agricultural landscape. The experiment showed a reduction in wild bee density, solitary bee nesting, and bumblebee colony growth and reproduction, although no adverse effects were observed in the honeybee colonies. The researchers concluded:

Such insecticidal use can pose a substantial risk to wild bees in agricultural landscapes, and the contribution of pesticides to the global decline of wild bees may have been underestimated. The lack of a significant response in honeybee colonies suggests that reported pesticide effects on honeybees cannot always be extrapolated to wild bees.

Lack of Benefit for Farmers

Evidence on the potential risk of neonics continues to grow, and as a result there is a growing effort to restrict their use. For example, the European Union has put a temporary, partial ban on neonics, while the Ontario government in Canada is working on legislation that would reduce the acreage planted with neonic-treated corn and soybean. How will this trend affect farmers? In a recent EPA review, it has been shown that using seeds coated with neonicotinoid pesticides offer little, if any, economic benefit.

This analysis provides evidence that U.S. soybean growers derive limited to no benefit from neonicotinoid seed treatments in most instances. Published data indicate that most usage of neonicotinoid seed treatments does not protect soybean yield any better than doing no pest control. Given that much of the reported seed treatment usage in the U.S. on soybeans is not associated with a target pest, BEAD [the Biological and Economic Analysis Division] concludes that much of the observed use is preventative and may not be currently providing any actual pest management benefits.

Read more articles from Alex Pietrowski.


Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. He is a staff writer for and an avid student of Yoga and life.

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