Commercial Pesticide Formulas Could Be Twice as Deadly for Honeybees

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A new study from the University of Texas at Austin has found that many commercial pesticide formulas, often a mix of multiple pesticides, can be twice as deadly to bee populations than single-pesticide formulas. Researchers now say that these pre-mixed formulas should require a license for use. They’re urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take swift action to protect the world’s pollinators.

Why This Matters: Bees are essential to all human life.

However, the species is quickly deteriorating, and 40% of all honeybee colonies collapsed from the spring of 2017 to 2018. Pesticides widely contribute to the problem; neonic pesticides are now the most commonly used pesticides in the U.S. and can kill bees on contact and leave survivors unable to forage, navigate, sleep, and reproduce. As our planet warms and crops fail, humanity will need every tool in its belt to feed the world, but that may be next to impossible without healthy pollinators.

The Buzz About Pesticides: Commercial pesticides sold to farmers often contain a mix of two or more types of pesticides, all of which could have varying impacts on bee populations. Researchers found that these impacts may stack, creating compounding threats. 

If you have a honeybee colony exposed to one pesticide that kills 10% of the bees and another pesticide that kills another 10%, you would expect, if those effects were additive, for 20% of the bees to be killed,” said Dr. Harry Siviter from the University of Texas at Austin. Siviter says that when these pesticides chemically interact, mortality could be 30-40%.

Siviter is calling for new licensing rules for commercial pesticide mixes and post-licensing observation to monitor impact. “We don’t continue to monitor pesticides once they’re licensed for use, so we’re proposing post-licensing observations,” he said. “If those pesticides [used in combination] harm bees, that harm is recorded.” Other experts say that reining in pesticides will be essential not only to bees’ survival but to stronger, more resilient bees in the future.

Forty years of data published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B found that bee colonies have begun developing behavioral hygienic safeguards against infections from mites. “We’re seeing this resistance increasing around the world,” said Isobel Grindrod from the University of Salford. “Their adaptability is really important, and that’s why we need to maintain healthy bee colonies – to keep that adaptability – because there will be other, new diseases and pressures in the future.”

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