Honey bees are very sensitive to a new family of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. Scores of plants including fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals are sprayed with neonics, which penetrate the plants, becoming part of plant vascular systems, which results in toxicity to bees and other pollinators. Neonics are produced by Bayer, a German company, but since 2013 their use is prohibited in Germany and in any other European Union country. The reason for the prohibition is based on the Precautionary Principle, which means “Look before you leap”. In our country our approach to use of pesiticides is backwards—chemicals are deemed innocent until proven guilty. It used to be that bee colonies were resilient enough to bounce back from adversity, but in the winter-spring of 2006-2007 the die-off of domestic bees was so bad that researchers coined a new phrase: Colony Collapse Disorder. The normal loss of colonies ran around 10% but that year it was over 30%, with some beekeepers losing more than 80% of their bees.
How do neonics harm honey bees? Repeated exposure starts to change a bee’s life and impacts the entire colony. There are a number of different effects after exposure.
*Ilness and death—neonics make it hard for the bees to groom themselves, making them susceptible to diseases and weakening their immune systems.
*Lost and confused—neonics affect bees’ ability to find their way back to the hive. Worker bees supply the colony’s food, and if they don’t return to the hive the entire colony can starve.
*Colony contamination—if the bees can return to the colony, they return covered in contaminated pollen. When other bees store the pollen, they too become contaminated.
My source for this information on bees is Earthjustice, a prestigious environmental advocacy group which has for nearly 40 years worked to protect people and the environment from dangerous chemicals. To this end following are steps Earthjustice is taking: ending spraying of roadsides in Northern California with herbicides where children wait for school buses, promoting campaigns to protect farmworkers in the Northwest and elsewhere from noxious chemicals, challenging the registration of a highly toxic soil fumigant pesticide, methyliodide, in California and Florida, protecting rural dwellers from toxic spray drift, , and taking action to protect honeybees and other pollinators from new and lethal insecticides, approved without adequate oversight by government regulators.
After all this information, you might wonder: how does the death of honey bee colonies really affect my life? Here’s how: every third bite of food you eat was pollinated by a bee. This does seem cause for concern.