If you’ve wondered where honeybees have disappeared to during the last few years, or have noticed a number of them lying dead when going out for a walk, scientists now believe they have found the answer – the bees are being poisoned by insecticides used to treat corn before planting. According to an MSNBC article, a number of research projects have come to this conclusion; the latest was conducted by University of Padua in northern Italy, the results of which have been published in the journal, Environmental Science & Technology.
The researchers investigated the link between the deaths of honeybees, or Colony Collapse Disorder as it is known, and the insecticides used in corn seed coating. Scientists have long believed that neonicotinoid insecticides were somehow linked to the mass deaths of honeybees since the 1990s. When planting corn in spring, the drilling machine sucks the seeds in and sprays them with a coating of insecticide before planting them in the earth. This process releases particles of the insecticide into the air, which honeybees then fly through and pick up.
The Italian study looked at ways of reducing this release of particles into the air by using different types of coating and different planting methods, including a machine that deflected the particles downwards rather than up into the air. However, no matter what was done, when insecticides containing neonicotinoids were used, honeybees still died as a result.
Neonicotinoids have been used in insecticides for corn since the 1990s and have been favoured because they killed destructive insects without causing harm to most other types of animals and people, even though the chemicals are transferred in small amounts to the growing plant. Unfortunately, that safety element doesn’t seem to include honeybees, populations of which are estimated to have been decimated by about half since the 1980s. Honeybees are vital to economies across the world because of their pollination ability – estimates cited by The Daily Mail suggest they could add as much as $200 million to the British economy each year.
Some European countries, including Italy, have now started to ban or limit neonicotinoids. In the UK, the Co-op, which has a chain of supermarkets across the country, has banned its use on Co-op farms. However, Bayer, the German company which produces the lion’s share of neonicotinoids in Europe, claims that there is no danger to honeybees and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to ban neonicotinoids in the US, despite the fact that some of its own scientists have recommended a ban.
Even if the EPA was to ban the insecticides, it would not immediately solve the problem for honeybees. It is believed that Clothiandin is the most poisonous of the neonicotinoids to honeybees and can kill them on contact. Unfortunately, according to Rodale.com, it has a “half-life of 19 years,” so even if it was banned now, it would still affect honeybee populations for years to come.
The differing opinions of official bodies with regard to the dangers of neonicotinoids on honeybees suggests that yet more research needs to be done. However, the growing body of research that has found they are responsible for the cull in honeybees over the past few years highlights the fact that there may indeed be cause for concern.