Pesticides Harm Bees

October 23, 2012 by  

Pesticides Harm Bees, Here we go again. Yet more research has been published in the world’s most prestigious, peer-reviewed journals showing that extremely widely-used pesticides have very damaging effects on bees, yet the only response from the government is inaction. The new paper, published in Nature, shows that bumblebees foraging naturally and exposed to realistic doses of pesticides suffer in two key ways.

First they are about twice as likely to die: two-thirds of the bees are lost when exposed to two pesticides compared to only a third when not exposed. Second, the exposed bees are half as successful in gathering food.

The new results reveal, again, shameful failings in the regulatory regime. The ecotoxicology tests currently required only look at honey bees. Yet bumblebees, the subject of the new research, are just as important in providing the pollination that creates much of the food we eat.

Tomatoes, for example, rely on bumblebees. Furthermore, bumblebees are very different, bigger in size individually, but living in colonies of just dozens, compared to the tens of thousands in honey bee colonies.

Another failing is that current tests require just 96 hours of exposure, but the new research only saw the damaging effect after three weeks. “If we had done our study for just 96 hours, our conclusions would have been very different,” says Nigel Raine, at Royal Holloway, University of London, one of the research team.

Yet another failing is that pesticides are only tested individually, not in the combination bees are exposed to in reality. The new work clearly shows a damaging cumulative effect from a combination of just two pesticides.

The reaction from pesticide manufacturers is the same as ever: the experiments are “unrealistic”. Raine rejects this: “It is hard to see what you could do better.” I think he has a point. The only truly “realistic” experiment would have no intervention at all, meaning you could collect no data. The manufacturers are making the perfect the enemy of the good. They also claim their own data shows there are no harmful effects, yet have not published it.

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