A Pesticide May Bee to Blame?

Recent studies suggest that pesticide neonicotinoid could be behind the honeybee population decline being reported since about 2005. This phenomenon is known as colony collapse disorder (CCD).  Death rates of honeybees reported by commercial beekeepers have ranged from 30-90%.[1]  This is especially alarming since, according to the Back Yard Beekeepers Association, “[h]oneybees account for 80% of all insect pollination…[w]ithout such pollination, we would see a significant decrease in the yield of fruits and vegetables.”[2]

A decrease in crop yields not only has severe consequences for countries struggling to provide adequate food sources for their growing populations, but also can have extreme financial impacts on farmers.  “About 130 crops in the U.S.—worth some $15 billion a year—depend on the honeybee population.”[3]  As it is now, the price for commercial pollination has escalated substantially.[4]

Two studies published in Science assert that neonicotinoid disrupts bees’ neurological functions.  The study done by French researchers indicates that this disruption makes it more difficult for the honeybees to find their way back to their hives.[5]  The study done by the scientists in Britain was performed on bumblebees, but it suggests that the chemicals interfere with bees’ ability to provide adequate food for their hives.[6]

Many studies done on the pesticide theorize that the bees ingest the chemicals during pollination since the pesticide spreads through the entire vascular systems of plants that it is applied to.[7]  However a study by a Harvard biologist traces ingestion of the chemical to the diet fed to many commercially breed honeybees.  According to the study, many of these honeybees are fed high fructose corn syrup and because the pesticide becomes a part of the plant (as opposed to simply laying on the outer portion of it), there are trace amounts of the pesticide in the corn syrup.[8]

Another study posits that the scientific community has been focusing too much on commercial sources of the pesticide and not enough on private homeowners.  According to that study, homeowner application of retail sources of the pesticide can lead to concentrations of the chemical in backyards forty times greater than what is allowed in the regulated commercial agricultural industry.[9]  The study suggests that these high levels are the result of misuse and failure to follow manufacturer directions.[10]

There are those in the scientific community that argue that neonicotinoid has played only a small part, if any, in the recent bee population decline; other factors such as land development (leading to fewer flowers) and “mites, viruses, fungi and other pathogens” may also be contributing to CCD.[11]  However, some scientists claim that the pesticide may be to blame for the bees increased susceptibility these diseases.[12]

EPA has been petitioned by over 1.25 million people to review its position on the use of neonicotinoids,[13] but how personnel will react to this remains to be seen in light of the conflicting data that is available.  It is interesting to note though that many European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, that have witnessed a similar decline in their bee populations have banned the use of the pesticide.[14]


[1] Bryan Walsh, What’s the Buzz: Study Links Pesticide With Honeybee Collapse, Time, Apr. 11, 2012, available at http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2012/04/11/whats-the-buzz-study-links-pesticide-with-honeybee-collapse/.

[2] Back Yard Beekeepers Association, Fact About Honeybees, http://www.backyardbeekeepers.com/facts.html (last visited April 16, 2012).

[3] Supra note 1.

[4] Id.

[5] Carl Zimmer, 2 Studies Point to Common Pesticide as a Culprit in Declining Bee Colonies, N.Y. Times, Mar. 29, 2012, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/science/neocotinoid-pesticides-play-a-role-in-bees-decline-2-studies-find.html.

[6] Id.

[7] Supra note 1.

[8] Id.

[9] Brandon Keim, Backyard Pesticide Use May Fuel Bee Die-Offs, Wired.com, Apr. 13, 2012, http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/04/neonicotinoids-gardens/.

[10] Id.

[11] Supra note 5.

[12] Id.

[13] Supra note 9.

[14] Id.

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