Pesticides blamed for bee decline

New formulas make colonies more prone to disease, research finds. Jonathan Owen reports

A A A

Compelling new evidence from the US government's top bee expert that modern pesticides may be a major cause of collapsing bee populations led to calls yesterday for the chemicals to be banned.

A study published in the current issue of the German science journal Naturwissenschaften, reveals how bees given minute doses of the widely used pesticide imidacloprid became more vulnerable to infections from a deadly parasite, nosema.

Bee experts described this as clear evidence of the role pesticides play in the plight of bees. Although research into the furry insects may seem like a very academic exercise, bees are vital to human survival. More than 70 of the 100 crops that provide 90 per cent of the world's food are pollinated by bees, and Albert Einstein once predicted that if bees died out, "man would have no more than four years to live."

The study, led by Dr Jeffrey Pettis, the head of the US Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory, says: "We believe that subtle interactions between pesticides and pathogens, such as demonstrated here, could be a major contributor to increased mortality of honey bee colonies worldwide."

Researchers found that bees deliberately exposed to minute amounts of the pesticide were, on average, three times as likely to become infected when exposed to a parasite called nosema as those that had not. The findings, which have taken more than three years to be published, add weight to concern that a new group of insecticides called neonicotinoids are behind a worldwide decline in honey bees, along with habitat and food loss, by making them more susceptible to disease.

Buglife, the invertebrate conservation charity, is calling for a ban on the controversial pesticides. Its director, Matt Shardlow, said yesterday: "The science is now clear, bees poisoned by neonicotinoid pesticides are much more likely to die from disease, gather less food and produce fewer new bees." He added: "Buglife's 2009 review of the science of environmental impacts from neonicotinoid pesticides showed that there was serious cause for concern. We called for a ban then, and as subsequent research has only added to concerns, including the revelation that neonicotinoids make bees prone to a diseased death, we are repeating our call for these toxins to be banned."

The Government needs to take urgent action, said Tim Lovett, of the British Beekeepers Association. He backs the findings of the new research: "Their conclusions are right ... here is some data that would appear to suggest links between widely used pesticides and pathogens."

Imidacloprid is the bestselling neonicotinoid made by Bayer CropScience, earning the company hundreds of millions of pounds a year. Neonicotinoids are "systemic" pesticides. Instead of spraying plants they are used to treat seeds – effectively becoming part of the plant, including the pollen and nectar that bees and other pollinating insects carry away. Concern over their effects on bees has led to restrictions on their use in Germany, Italy, France, and Slovenia.

Dr Julian Little, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience, sought to dismiss the new findings yesterday: "The key issue here is that Jeff Pettis's studies were carried out in the laboratory and not the open air." He added: "Bee health is really important, but focusing on pesticides diverts attention away from the very real issues of bee parasites and diseases – that is where Bayer is focusing its effort."

But Professor Simon Potts, of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research at the University of Reading, disagrees: "Most reports of direct impacts of pesticides on bee mortality are usually due to the incorrect application of pesticides on farmland,," he said. "However, the Pettis study should be taken as a warning that we may need to look much more carefully at the indirect effect of pesticides."

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor