QThere has been lots of circulation on the internet about Bayer and Syngenta producing a seed treatment that kills honey bees. There is a request to sign a petition banning the treatment. What is the scientific basis for the issue?

There has been lots of circulation on the internet about Bayer and Syngenta producing a seed treatment that kills honey bees. There is a request to sign a petition banning the treatment. What is the scientific basis for the issue?

AExpert Answer

The seed treatment involves coating seeds with a new kind of insecticide called neonicotinoids, so that the chemicals become part of the plant’s physiology – and only affect insects that feed on the crops. (Generalized spraying with pesticides – or with live Bt bacteria, which some organic food growers use to protect their crops – can affect many more insects than the targeted pests.) Contrary to what the petition suggests or what you may have read elsewhere, extensive research has shown that neonicotinoids do not appear to be responsible for “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) or long-term colony decline.  Bee colony collapses have been recorded as far back as 950 AD in Ireland and have been a recurring and little understood problem in many countries for a very long time. Large-scale field studies in Europe and North America have shown that colony decline correlates well with the presence of parasites and diseases, but not with the use of agricultural pesticides. Potential causes of poor bee health – such as Varroa mites, viruses and the need for more nutritious habitats in some areas – must be addressed urgently, or we may expend time, money and misguided regulations and petitions on the wrong “solutions,” while the actual causes go unaddressed and more bees die.

You may be interested in reading my recent articles on bee health, CCD and possible solutions. The articles and research papers cited and linked to in these articles are also very informative.

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