CATCH THE BUZZ – Honey Bees Exposed to a Multitude of Pesticides

Alan Harman

European beekeepers could take a leaf from Heinz and add 57 varieties to their honey labels after researchers find European honey bees are being poisoned with up to 57 different pesticides.

The National Veterinary Research Institute in Poland – to figure out what’s really putting honey bees at risk – developed a method for analyzing 200 pesticides at the same time.

What they found shocked them, but they said their research result could help unravel the mystery behind the widespread decline of honey bees in recent years and even help develop an approach to saving them.

The Polish researchers say in a study published in the Journal of Chromatography A that several studies have shown a link between pesticide use and bee deaths and the European Union has banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

But Tomasz Kiljanek, lead author of the study, says it’s not as simple as banning one pesticide that’s killing bees; the relationship between pesticide use and bee death is complex and scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what’s happening.

“We wanted to develop a test for a large number of pesticides approved for use in the European Union to see what is poisoning the bees,” Kiljanek says.

With so many pesticides currently in use, it’s difficult to work out which ones are harming the bees. Certain combinations of pesticides, or their use over time, could affect honeybees in different ways, Kiljanek says

“To understand what’s really going on, we need to know which pesticides and at what concentration levels are present in honeybees.”

Kiljanek and the team used a method called QuEChERS, now used to detect pesticides in food. With this system, they could test poisoned bees for 200 different pesticides simultaneously, as well as several additional compounds created when the pesticides are broken down.

About 98% of the pesticides they tested for are approved for use in the European Union.

The team used the method to investigate more than 70 honey bee poisoning incidents. Their findings revealed 57 different pesticides present in the bees.

It’s a toxic mess they hope their new method will help solve.

“This is just the beginning of our research on the impact of pesticides on honey bee health,” Kiljanek says.

“Honey bee poisoning incidents are the tip of the iceberg. Even at very low levels, pesticides can weaken bees’ defense systems, allowing parasites or viruses to kill the colony. Our results will help expand our knowledge about the influence of pesticides on honeybee health, and will provide important information for other researchers to better assess the risk connected with the mix of current used pesticides.”