A recent study conducted by scientists in the US has linked nicotine-based pesticides to the demise of bees all over the world.
According to research carried out by experts at Purdue University, Indiana, a group of toxic chemicals called ‘neonicotines’ which are routinely sprayed over agricultural crops worldwide, are the main culprits in the epidemic currently sweeping the bee world. So nicotine isn’t just bad for the world’s human population!
The findings of this research contradict the much-reiterated claims of multi-billion pound pesticide companies who have insisted that parasites and diseases are to blame for ‘colony collapse disorder’ - the severe decline in the number of bees.
Crops all over Europe and America are blanketed with various chemicals in an attempt to deter insects from eating them or damaging them. It now appears that using these pesticides, neonicotines in particular, is resulting in bringing bees to the brink of extinction.
Bees are essential! They are vital for pollination, biodiversity and crop production - It is estimated that one third of all the food we consume each day relies on pollination mainly by bees... that’s a lot of food! In the US alone, around 80% of crops are said to be dependent on honey bees which is why the findings of studies such as this are so worrying.
Numbers of bees have fallen dramatically as a result of ‘colony collapse disorder’ - the rapid loss of the adult bee population. The US has reported losses of up to one-third of its honeybee hives every year, while beekeepers throughout Europe say that 1 million bee colonies have been wiped out in France, Germany, Italy and the UK since 1994.
Following these staggering figures, bans and regulations on neonicotinoids have been imposed in countries across Europe, however regulators in both the UK and US have so far refuted claims that neonicotinoids are to blame for the downfall of bees, instead blaming parasites and diseases.
However, this latest research seriously challenges the views of the UK and US. Researchers found that neonicotinoids pesticides were present in samples of pollen, soil and dandelions as well as on dead and dying bees, indicating that there are numerous ways that bees could be contaminated with the drug.
Christian Krupke, associate professor of entomology at Purdue University and co-author of the study says “we know that these insecticides are highly toxic to bees; we found them in each sample of dead and dying bees”. Symptoms of insecticide poisoning include tremors, un-coordinated movement and convulsions.
The abundant use of neonicotine pesticides not only has a detrimental effect on the lives of bees, but it also “stands out as being an enormous source of potential environment contamination, not just for honeybees, but for any insects living in or near these fields.” Buglife, a charity committed to maintaining sustainable populations of insects has described neonicotinoids as "massively toxic" to wildlife. "All the evidence indicates that this pollution kills bees, moths, hoverflies and other essential pollinator species."
Krupke goes on to say “the fact that these compounds can persist for month or years means that plants growing in these soils can take up these compounds in leaf tissue or pollen”, meaning that even if the use of nicotine-based pesticides came to a halt in the relatively near future, the effects of said pesticide could persist for years.
Environmental campaigners as well as the beekeeping community have welcomed this research, and are calling on the British government to act before it’s too late. However, Craig Macadam - Buglife’s Scottish officer suggests that "the appalling truth is that we no longer have a credible regulatory system for pesticides in Scotland or the UK. All of the so-called regulators are so symbiotically and financially dependent on the pesticide industry that they have no independent freedom of action."