ShareThis Page

75 percent of honey samples have key pesticide

| Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, 5:24 p.m.
In this May 27, 2015, file photo, volunteers check honey bee hives for queen activity and perform routine maintenance as part of a collaboration between the Cincinnati Zoo and TwoHoneys Bee Co. at EcOhio Farm in Mason, Ohio.
In this May 27, 2015, file photo, volunteers check honey bee hives for queen activity and perform routine maintenance as part of a collaboration between the Cincinnati Zoo and TwoHoneys Bee Co. at EcOhio Farm in Mason, Ohio.
In this Sept. 15, 2015, file photo, St. Thomas More Academy students Maria Pompi (left) and Megan Boretti sample honey sticks during a tour of the Bayer North American Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
In this Sept. 15, 2015, file photo, St. Thomas More Academy students Maria Pompi (left) and Megan Boretti sample honey sticks during a tour of the Bayer North American Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
In this April 15, 2013, file photo, honey bees and the queen (with yellow dot) sit on a honeycomb in Wezembeek-Oppem near Brussels. A new study published Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, in the journal Science found something in the world’s honey that is not quite expected or sweet: the controversial pesticides called neonicotinoids. Scientists say it is not near levels that would come close to harming humans, but it is a big worry for bees, which already are in trouble.
In this April 15, 2013, file photo, honey bees and the queen (with yellow dot) sit on a honeycomb in Wezembeek-Oppem near Brussels. A new study published Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, in the journal Science found something in the world’s honey that is not quite expected or sweet: the controversial pesticides called neonicotinoids. Scientists say it is not near levels that would come close to harming humans, but it is a big worry for bees, which already are in trouble.
In this May 27, 2015, file photo, volunteer Paul Reinhart, a zoo keeper at the Cincinnati Zoo, checks honey bee hives for queen activity and performs routine maintenance as part of a collaboration between the Cincinnati Zoo and TwoHoneys Bee Co., at EcOhio Farm in Mason, Ohio.
In this May 27, 2015, file photo, volunteer Paul Reinhart, a zoo keeper at the Cincinnati Zoo, checks honey bee hives for queen activity and performs routine maintenance as part of a collaboration between the Cincinnati Zoo and TwoHoneys Bee Co., at EcOhio Farm in Mason, Ohio.

WASHINGTON — When researchers collected honey samples from around the world, they found that three-quarters of them had a common type of pesticide suspected of playing a role in the decline of bees. Even honey from the island paradise of Tahiti had the chemical.

That demonstrates how pervasive a problem the much-debated pesticide is for honeybees, said authors of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. They said it is not a health problem for people because levels were far below governments' thresholds on what's safe to eat.

“What this shows is the magnitude of the contamination,” said study lead author Edward Mitchell, a biology professor at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, adding that there are “relatively few places where we did not find any.”

Over the past few years, several studies — in the lab and the field — link insecticides called neonicotinoids (nee-oh-NIH'-kuh-tih-noyds), or neonics, to reduced and weakened honeybee hives, although pesticide makers dispute those studies. Neonics work by attacking an insect's central nervous system;

Bees and other pollinators have been on the decline for more than a decade and experts blame a combination of factors: neonics, parasites, disease, climate change and lack of a diverse food supply. Honeybees don't just make honey; about one-third of the human diet comes from plants that are pollinated by the insects. Bees pick up the pesticide when they feed on fields grown from treated seeds.

As part of a citizen science project, the Swiss researchers asked other experts, friends and relatives to ship them honey samples. More than 300 samples arrived and researchers tested 198 of them for five of the most common types of neonics.

Overall, 75 percent of the samples had at least one neonic, 45 percent had two or more and 10 percent had four or more.

Results varied by region. In North America, 86 percent of samples had the pesticide; Asia, 80 percent; Europe, where there's a partial ban, 79 percent; Africa 73 percent; the Australian region, 71 percent and South America, 57 percent.

The study found that nearly half of the honey samples exceeded a level of the pesticide that some previous research said weakens bees, but the pesticide makers say otherwise. An outside expert, University of Nebraska's Judy Wu-Smart, said the study used too few honey samples to make the broad conclusions the researchers did.

Ann Bryan, spokeswoman for Syngenta which makes the neonic thiamethoxam, said the amount of the pesticide found in honey samples “are 50 times lower than what could cause possible effects on bees.”

Jeffrey Donald, a spokesman for Bayer Crop Science which makes the neonic clothianidinsaid, said the study “perpetuates the myth that exposure to low levels of neonicotinoids implies risk, even though there is no compelling scientific evidence to support this conclusion.”

The study authors likened neonics to DDT, the pesticide in the 1960s linked to declines in bald eagles and other birds. They said neonics are dangerous to all sorts of insects, even ladybugs. University of Illinois bee expert Sydney Cameron and other scientists said those comparisons aren't right because neonics don't stay in an animal's system like DDT did and are applied to seeds and not sprayed in mass quantities.

“This is an important paper if for no other reason that it will attract a great deal of attention to the mounting problem of worldwide dependence on agrochemicals, the side effects of which we know relatively little,” Cameron said in an email. She wasn't part of the study.

One side benefit of collecting honey is that researchers could sample some. Mitchell's favorite is a dark and bitter honey from Africa. He called the honey fantastic, but added “I couldn't eat it all the time. It was just too strong.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.