We’ve known for some time that honey bees are on the decline—an alarming statistic considering that they pollinate many, if not most, of the fruits and seeds we consume. And unfortunately, new research is not bringing any good news.
Alexandre Aebi from the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland and his colleges gathered 198 honey samples from every continent but Antarctica and looked for signs of neonicotinoids—the world’s most widely used class of insecticides. Crop seeds are coated in these chemicals, which are then incorporated into the plant’s tissues, reducing the need for spraying. In general, they are considered less harmful to the environment than older products.
Yet the researchers found that 75% of the honey samples contained trace amounts of at least one of these chemicals. The highest concentrations were in honey samples from North America, Asia, and Europe. That European honey contains neonicotinoids is a bit of a mystery considering that there’s been a ban on these products since 2013.
Furthermore, of the honey samples that had neonicotinoids, 34% had levels high enough that could be detrimental to bees. Even at the elevated levels, the honey is still safe for human consumption.
Neonicotinoids don’t break down easily in the environment, meaning they’re often found in soils, water samples, and wildflowers.
Here’s Matt McGrath reporting for BBC News:
Industry figures though are critical of the study pointing out that it is hard to draw conclusions from just 200 hundred samples.
“Setting aside the sample size of the study not being large enough to be representative, the fact that a residue is found is not in itself a cause for concern,” said Graeme Taylor, director of public affairs at the European Crop Protection Association, which represents the manufacturers of neonics.
“In relation to the findings of the study more specifically, the reported residue levels are minuscule and well below human safety limits.”
To protect honey bee populations, the authors of the study are proposing permanent ban, similar to the one that’s been floated in France.