Pesticides are affecting the behavioral biology of honeybees. Scientists aren’t sure how this will play out but it could be very disruptive to our food supply.

Two scientists from the University of Würzburg in Germany published a report about a new pesticide used on the honeybee called flupyradifurone. Manufactured by Bayer it’s used in the United States and marketed under the name Sivanto. In high doses, this pesticide negatively impacts bees’ taste, learning ability and memory.

They found smaller doses didn’t show any adverse effects but a high dose of flupyradifurone in the amount of 1.2 microgrammes per bee resulted in significantly reduced perception and learning performance. When the pesticide is used properly, the doses are low. That’s good new for honeybees. But the scientists say further research is necessary to determine the pesticide’s influence on motor function, waggle dance or orientation.

The study is published in Scientific Reports.

Furthermore, Hannah Hesselbach, one of the study authors, said that they don’t know what kind of influence flupyradifurone will have on bees in combination with other pesticides. Residual pesticides are often found in honey and pollen, which means there are other pesticides honeybees are also exposed to.

In 2017, two large separate studies examined another type of pesticide: neonicotinoids. They’re derived from nicotine and are commonly found in agricultural areas and are known to kill bees, reduce their memory, hurt their ability to reproduce and reduce their queen numbers. In February 2018, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a report confirming that most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides represent a risk to wild bees and honeybees.

Pesticides have been linked to the extinction of pollinators through various studies and neonicotinoid pesticides are used globally. Recently, the European Union scientific risk assessors found enough evidence against neonicotinoid pesticides that showed a serious threat to honeybees and wild bees.

However a large-scale study from Europe showed that harm from neonicotinoids exposure depends on where honeybees are. NPR reported about a case in Germany where bees produced more eggs and larvae despite exposure to neonicotinoids. That same exposure was hurting honeybees in Hungary and the United Kingdom, where they fed on neonic-treated canola fields. Those bees fared worse than bees living around untreated canola.

The solution is as one scientist, Nigel Raine, a bee specialist at the University of Guelph, in Ontario told NPR is to focus on the overall agricultural practice methods. On the one hand the pesticides affect bees but we also have other factors to examine for what affects bees in addition to neonicotinoids:

“We shouldn’t just focus on insecticides. They’re part of the problem, but if we focus on that and then just say, ‘OK, we understand that now, the problem’s fixed,’ I don’t think that’s right,” Raine says. “We need to be clear about how we’re managing landscapes, both agricultural and urban and more natural landscapes, to support healthy biodiversity of pollinators,” he says.

Humans and other animals rely on pollinators to produce fruits and seeds. We need to protect them in order to protect our food supply. The cocktail of pesticides is worrying because we really don’t know how they affect pollinators or what will happen pesticides trickle down the food supply.

Additionally at the time of publication of the blog, there were only a few studies posted on pubmed (the on-line repository for research publications) on flupyradifurone, 3 on the negative effects on bees and one on mollusks. None of the studies were on the effects on humans. On the EPA website there were 3 studies noted with human chronic toxicity levels (2 on rats and 1 on rabbits) but with no way to access them. It is very concerning that this pesticide is commonly being used on citrus, cocoa, cotton, grapes, hops, pome fruits, potatoes, soybeans, and ornamental plants without research to understand how short and long-term exposure will affect our children and loved ones with long term exposure in our food, clothing and environment. #toxicitymatters #everybabywell