A large-scale study on neonicotinoid pesticides is adding to the growing body of evidence that these agricultural chemicals are indeed harming bee populations. Carried out at 33 sites in the United Kingdom, Germany and Hungary, the study found that exposure to neonicotinoids “left honeybee hives less likely to survive over winter, while bumblebees and solitary bees produced fewer queens.”

Bayer and Syngenta, makers of “neonic” pesticides who stand to reap massive profits if Europe lifts the neonic ban, promptly disputed the researchers’ conclusions—even though they partially funded the study.

The authors note that this is the first real-world experiment demonstrating direct causation between neonics and reduced bee populations, and is consistent with other findings.

According to the study abstract:


Winter-sown oilseed rape was grown commercially with either seed coatings containing neonicotinoids (clothianidin or thiamethoxam) or no seed treatment (control). For honey bees, we found both negative (Hungary and United Kingdom) and positive (Germany) effects during crop flowering. In Hungary, negative effects on honey bees (associated with clothianidin) persisted over winter and resulted in smaller colonies in the following spring (24% declines). In wild bees (Bombus terrestris and Osmia bicornis), reproduction was negatively correlated with neonicotinoid residues. These findings point to neonicotinoids causing a reduced capacity of bee species to establish new populations in the year following exposure.

Negative effects on bumblebees and solitary bees were observed in all three countries, where higher concentrations of neonicotinoid residues in nests resulted in fewer queens. Harmful effects were found on honeybees in the U.K. and Hungary, which is consistent with observations of high hive mortality in the U.K. and a 24 percent decrease in colonies in Hungary.

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However, no harmful effects were found on overwintering honeybees in Germany. This relatively small subset of the study’s findings was pounced on by Bayer and Syngenta to claim that their products are safe for bees, or the results are inconclusive. The two companies make the neonic pesticides used in the study.

We do not share the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’s interpretation that adverse effects of the seed treatments can be concluded from this study, and we remain confident that neonicotinoids are safe when used and applied responsibly,” said Dr. Richard Schmuck, environmental science director at Bayer.

It should come as no surprise that the makers of an agricultural pesticide worth billions of dollars would seize on the smaller part of a study to push doubt in the public mind. The scientists who actually performed the study provide a different interpretation—one based on the entire body of evidence.

Our findings are a cause for serious concern,” said study author Richard Pywell of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxfordshire. “We’ve shown for the first time negative effects of neonicotinoid-coated seed dressings on honeybees and we’ve also shown similar negative effects on wild bees. This is important because many crops globally are insect pollinated and without pollinators we would struggle to produce some foods.

The data will be studied as part of an assessment due in November to the EU, which will decide whether to keep the neonic ban in place. The BBC reports that the EU is “working on new draft proposals to extend the ban on neonicotinoids.”

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To illustrate the complex nature of the problem, as neonics have been banned since 2013, some European farmers are spraying larger quantities of other pesticides such as pyrthroids, which may be doing its own harm to bees and beneficial insects.

There certainly is a need for pest management in agriculture, but what cost is the chemical approach exacting on the natural environment and honeybees that pollinate our food crops? The evidence on neonics says bees are highly sensitive to these chemicals, but farmers also need alternative solutions.

To address the issue, we must consider how we got here. Pests have been introduced all around the world by hitching rides on human ships and other vehicles. Pests often find their new locations devoid of natural predators that would normally keep them under control.

Agricultural practices aggressively pushed by chemical manufacturers and GMO companies have also increased pest problems. The corporate, patent-driven agricultural model involves monoculture crops dependent on high chemical inputs. This creates a positive feedback loop where pest plants and insects become resistant to herbicides and pesticides, prompting companies to make other, more toxic chemicals.

This ever-growing dependence on chemicals, which threatens natural ecosystems and human health, is highly profitable to companies like Bayer and Monsanto.

The chemical approach completely ignores thousands of years of human learning. The concept now know as Integrated Pest Management (IPM)—involving practices such as polyculture, crop rotation, soil enrichment and native shrub borders—is an effective alternative to the chemical approach.

Holistic, non-toxic solutions face stiff odds against billion-dollar interests of corporations like Bayer who won’t hesitate to deny scientific conclusions, even from studies funded by Bayer.

Justin Gardner is a peaceful free-thinker with a background in the biological sciences. He is interested in bringing rationality back into the national discourse, and independent journalism as a challenge to the status quo.
  • Damiana

    I think too many morons are under the impression that since bees sting people, we’re better off without them.

    • truthseeker53

      God gave them pretty effective means of self defense. Sadly they have no defense against large scale poisoning by lucifer’s humans.

      • Damiana

        You know that even the devil does God’s will, right? Otherwise, you’re basically calling God a pussy!

        • Gordon Klock

          I’ve heard it said that Satan, is merely how God presents himself to the wicked…..

          • Damiana

            That’s a good one. When Christians challenge me about what good the devil does, I remind them of their own dogma… that the purpose of our existence here is to use our free will to PROVE that we love God and are worthy of His approval. This task would be completely and utterly impossible without the presence of temptation, which the Devil handily provides. Every chance to do something evil is another chance to prove that we’re good… and the more “fun” that evil is, the more powerful that proof is.

            What are good and evil, you ask? Well, that’s a deep question to be asking in a place like this but luckily for you, I’m not a very deep person. Put in the simplest terms, evil is whatever brings suffering and entrapment, while good is whatever brings freedom and delight. The devil’s job is to tangle those two to the point that your own freedom and delight are tied to the misery and enslavement of someone else. Our job is try to pluck out the good strands and leave the evil behind.

            Without the Devil, we’d all be angels and one of the very first things God ever said to anyone (in the Christian dogma) is “you angels are boring as FUCK.”

          • theoneandonly

            that is such a skewed view of Christianity however yes it seems angels are a bit boring; so are you. Do you have anything to contribute to the discussion about how hideous Bayer is or maybe you approve of IG farben and its NAZI ways I mean …. hell, God needed the NAzi’s too, Right??? Anyway, from your simple freedom and delight ideas of the world I guess Monsatan is on the right course because they are delighted with their money; which affords them the freedom to murder us all.

        • truthseeker53

          On the off chance you might actually want to understand God and lucifer is the best.

          • Damiana

            No, thank you. It seems more like a store than anything enlightening.

          • truthseeker53

            Nope, the most enlightening book you’ll ever read.

          • Damiana

            Then perhaps it should be presented as such and not as a Bargain Bin book at a flea market.

          • truthseeker53

            Affordability. Many haven’t your means.

  • Gordon Klock

    Pretty obnoxious how these corporations pretend to be so ignorant, about the inherent disasters that are bound to occur, when they so arrogantly meddle with nature in such deep & fundamental facets, that even they, have no chance of even understanding the long term effects of (& the fact that they don’t care,as long as they are not personally effected, as they spend even more on media ‘damage control’ & propaganda, rather than admit to, much less deal with the actual damage they caused)…

    • Damiana

      They don’t care about the long-term effects once they reach a point of wealth where they feel they’ll be “protected.” Why should I care if your “loser” kids choke to death on poisoned air when poisoning it scored me enough cash to buy this nice FilterDome and portable tanks of clean air?

  • a.c.hall

    neonicotinoids are banned in the EU and US, but Not in the UK. Our Agri- Chem Industry uses UK Governments of all Ideologies as it`s Piggy Bank.

  • theoneandonly

    Bayer is and was owned by Nazis IG FARBEN is part of the reason we have the Nuremberg Code of Ethics. Their Vaccine experiments and genetic experiments were demonic and yet the doctors got off from IG Farben and the Hauge and went to go make vaccines for BAYER. Now BAYER has purchased MONSATAN and we expect these global monsters to “GROW A CONSCIENCE “? They are murderers and could give to craps — Stand up EU Stand way way UP. BEST part of article is that the Dr. is Dr. Schmuck — BLAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!

  • One way to make good on the desire to reduce the world’s population to 500 million.