Helping Honeybees: Pesticides Make it Tough for Pollinators


Bee life ain’t easy. And lately, its been getting a lot harder.

Recent press reports show that an array of stressors are taking a significant toll on America’s bees. Pesticides are at the top of the list, but you and I can probably identify with some. It seems that poor diet and a heavy workload are really making things a drag for the typical honeybee. No doubt, those are things that impact a lot of us---but for bees, they are deadly.

The toxic environmental stew of pesticides, fungicides, and invasive species that seems to be the root of the perfect storm that spawned Colony Collapse Disorder have not abated. Add to that an array of new and highly bee toxic pesticides and you’ve got trouble. But there is more.

Miller-McCune recently had an article noting significant problems that have arisen from beekeepers using corn syrup as food in the absence of pollen, the insect’s proper food which is getting harder and harder to find on the road.

And Washington Post detailed a dangerous cycle that has started as commercial bee hive numbers have dropped---the remaining beekeepers are trying to pick up the slack with fewer bees. And the results aren’t pretty. Nationally, commercial beekeepers are reporting 30-50% bee losses over the winter. And in some cases, CCD has struck and taken out over 80% of some beekeepers’ bees. And that means fewer bees to pollinate crops this year.

But last week, pesticides stepped back into the spotlight. The scientific journal PLOS One published a study showing just how pervasive these chemicals have become in the environment, with three out of five pollen and wax samples from nearly two dozen states had at least one pesticide present. Further, their samples showed more than 120 different types of pesticide in various wax, bees, and hives that were tested.

But thanks to strong work from NRDC’s litigation team, there will be one less thing stressing bees : spirotetramat. After rounds of legal wrangling in federal court, the bee-toxic pesticide may no longer be sold or distributed because it entered the marketplace illegally. Known as Movento, Ultor, and Kontos, Bayer CropScience’s new pesticide is now illegal to buy, sell, or transport in the United States after NRDC and Xerces Society successfully argued that it was approved through a flawed registration process.

Bayer has asserted that spirotetramat is a “greener” pesticide and safe for beneficial insects. However the suit partly in response to concerns from beekeepers that systemic insecticides – like spirotetramat – cause delayed or chronic harmful effects on bee broods, and that Bayer did not conduct sufficient studies to determine spirotetramat’s impacts on bees. EPA itself observed that existing studies showed “increased mortality in adults and pupae, massive perturbation of brood development, early brood termination, and decreased larval abundance.” Now, we are not asserting that this chemical has anything to do with CCD, but there are lingering concerns that it is incredibly damaging to bees. In a year when bee losses are so high, it seems quite appropriate that this stuff will not be out there until it is proven to be safe.

Why does all this matter? Bees are incredibly important. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops grown in America. USDA also claims that one out of every three mouthfuls of food in the typical American diet has a connection to bee pollination. Beyond that, they are incredibly cool. Who couldn’t identify with a critter that dances to blow off steam after a tough day at work? NRDC will continue to do what we can to make those workdays just a bit safer.

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