Seven Thoughts on Honey Bees and Pesticides

Published on September 16, 2015

Article provided by Bayer CropScience, LP and edited by Pond Magazine.

1. Honey bees help keep our grocery shelves stocked with nutritious food.

It is estimated that a third of crops rely to some extent on pollination by insects like honey bees. Much of our food is wind -pollinated, including most of the grains we eat, but honey bees play an important role in pollinating many of our fruits, nuts and vegetables. These foods help contribute to a healthy, nutritious diet.

2. The number of honey bee colonies is increasing worldwide

Most people are surprised to learn that honey bee colonies actually increased by 45 percent worldwide over the past 50 years (Growth Industry: Honeybee Numbers Expand Worldwide as U.S. Decline Continues). And in the past five years, as awareness of honey bee health has grown, the number of colonies in the U.S. and Canada has increased by 13 percent and 18 percent, respectively.2 Annual surveys conducted by the USDA show that the number of honey bee colonies has risen steadily over the past 10 years.

3. Honey bee colony health should not be taken for granted

Despite the growth in honey bee numbers, colonies are exposed to many factors that can affect their overall health. Most experts agree that factors such as parasites, diseases, inadequate nutrition or lack of available forage, adverse weather, pesticides and hive management practices play a role. Researchers are exploring many ways to help protect bee health, but there is much work yet to be done.

4. Neonicotinoid insecticides do not impact colony health when used according to the label

Hundreds of studies on neonicotinoids and bees indicate that when used according to label instructions, “neonics” are not harmful to bee colonies. Large-scale studies in Europe and North America show that poor bee health correlates well with parasites and diseases, but not with pesticides, including neonicotinoids.

Bee colonies are increasing but honey bees colonies continue to shrink in the U.S.
Bee colonies are increasing but honey bees colonies continue to shrink in the U.S. (Click Image to Expand)

5. Toxicity and hazard are not one in the same

When used in typical field applications and according to label instructions neonics do not pose a significant hazard to bees, even though some neonics, like many insecticides, are toxic to bees. This is because at normal field doses, the potential exposure to bees is far below levels that would cause concern.10 Distinguishing toxicity from hazard is a routine activity performed by most of us, although we may be unaware that we are doing so. For example, caffeine is more toxic than are many pesticides, and yet we drink it in coffee without fear because the levels are so low (e.g., the hazard is very small).

6. A tiny parasite is a real threat to honey bee health today.

In the late-1980s a parasite called the Varroa mite invaded North American bee colonies and beekeeping has never been the same since. The Varroa mite is the “single most detrimental pest of honey bees,” according the USDA and the EPA.11 This parasite weakens bees and helps transmit diseases that can wipe out entire colonies. Beekeepers try to control the mite with insecticides, but effective control is difficult to achieve.

7. Farmers and beekeepers have worked together for decades

Lost in the discussion of bees and farming practices is the simple fact that farmers and beekeepers depend on each other where bees are needed to help pollinate crops. The farmer gets greater crop productivity and the beekeeper earns a fee for pollination services (and increases the colony’s honey production). Even when bees are not needed, such as in cotton or citrus, farmers routinely make their fields available to beekeepers.


• Aizen and Harder, Current Biology, June 9, 2009 doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.03.071.

• USDA (2015) National Honey Report.

• vanEngelsdorp D., et al. (2009) Colony Collapse Disorder: A Descriptive Study. PLoS ONE 4(8): e6481.

• vanEnglesdorp D., et al. 2010. Weighing Risk Factors Associated with Bee Colony Collapse Disorder by Classification and Regression Tree Analysis. J Econ Entomology 103(5):1517-1523.

• Rogers REL, and Kemp JR. 2004. Assessing Bee Health in the Maritimes: A survey of pesticide residues in honey bee, Apis mellifera, colonies. Final Report, Pei Adapt Council Project Number 319.02. October 15, 2004.

• Nguyen, B.K., et al. 2009. Does Imidacloprid Seed-Treated Maize Have an Impact on Honey Bee Mortality? J. Econ. Entomol. 102(2): 616-623.

• Chauzat M-P., et al. 2009. Influence of Pesticide Residues on Honey Bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) Colony Health in France. Environ. Entomol. 38(3): 514-523 (2009).

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