Closeup group of dead bee isolated on white background

Pesticides Are Harming Bees — But Not Everywhere, Major New Study Shows

by Dan Charles


In the global debate over neonicotinoid pesticides, the company that makes most of them has relied on one primary argument to defend its product: The evidence that these chemicals, commonly called “neonics,” are harmful to bees has been gathered in artificial conditions, force-feeding bees in the laboratory, rather than in the real world of farm fields. That company, Bayer, states on its website that “no adverse effects to bee colonies were ever observed in field studies at field-realistic exposure conditions.”

Bayer will have a harder time making that argument after today.

This week, the prestigious journal Science reveals results from the biggest field study ever conducted of bees and neonics, which are usually coated on seeds, like corn and soybean seeds, before planting. Scientists monitored bees — honeybees and two types of wild bees — at 33 sites across Europe, in the United Kingdom, Germany and Hungary. At each site, the bees were placed near large fields of canola. Some of the fields contained canola grown from seeds that were treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, along with a standard fungicide. Other fields were planted with canola treated only with fungicides.

At most sites — specifically in Hungary and the United Kingdom — bees feeding on neonic-treated canola fields generally fared worse than bees that got to live around untreated canola. When exposed to neonics, wild bees and honeybees had more difficulty reproducing, and fewer honeybee colonies survived the winter.

The scientist who led the experiment, Richard Pywell, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in the U.K., called the results “cause for concern.”

Read the full article at NPR