Saturday, March 17, 2012

We now know what has been killing the bees: neonicotinoids

About 6 or 7 years ago, the news was full of stories about honeybees disappearing. Large colonies of bees which were critical to commercial agriculture were suddenly and mysteriously dying off or just not showing up when they were needed for pollination. A story from UPI today seems to have the answer:
Die-offs of honeybees critical for pollinating food crops -- part of so-called colony collapse disorder -- is linked to an insecticide, a U.S. journal reports.

Researchers from the University of Padua in Italy writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology say the springtime die-offs have been linked to technology used to plant corn coated with insecticides.

In some parts of Europe where farmers use the technology to plant seeds coated with so-called neonicotinoid insecticides, widespread deaths of honeybees have been reported since the introduction of the technique in the late 1990s, they said.

Apparently, it was no coincidence that once these neonicotinoid insecticides were introduced, the bee die offs began. This class of insecticide was introduced about 15 years ago and that is when the colongy collapses were first noticed, though the numbers were not large until about 2005, when corn farmers all over the world had begun using neonicotinoids.
Such insecticides are among the most widely used in the world, popular because they kill insects by paralyzing nerves but have lower toxicity for other animals.

Scientists said they suspected the bee die-offs might be due to particles of the insecticide made airborne by the pneumatic drilling machines used for planting that forcefully suck seeds in and expel a burst of air containing high concentrations of particles of the insecticide coating.

They found that honeybees that flew through the emission cloud of the seeding machines used in mid-March to May corn planting were dying.

While this neonicotinoid study is all news to me, it appears that scientists and some politicians have known this connection to bee die-offs for a few years. A 2010 story called "'Nicotine Bees' Population Restored With Neonicotinoids Ban" from a website called says France, Germany and Italy banned neonicotinoid insecticides due to their effects on bees:
Following France and Germany, last year the Italian Agriculture Ministry suspended the use of a class of pesticides, nicotine-based neonicotinoids, as a "precautionary measure." The compelling results - restored bee populations - prompted the government to uphold the ban.

A documentary film called 'Nicotine Bees' explains the connection between the growth of neonicotinoids and the extermination off honeybees called Colony Collapse Disorder. Here is the trailer for the movie:

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