Bee Colonies Poisoned in California

There have been so many reports of bee poisonings by pesticides all over the world, that I can hardly keep up.  

However, I received yet another alarming report from the Pollinator Stewardship Council, (among the many I receive) and which I thought I would share - you can read the whole press release (opens a new window).

To summarise some of the main points:

  • 80,000 bee colonies have been poisoned whilst pollinating almond crops (beekeepers take hives to almond farms in order to pollinate the almond trees there.  This ensures a much higher almond crop). 
  • On top of this, a further 400,000 other colonies have been affected by the same pesticides.
  • Further reports suggest that around 60% of all the 1.7 million hives placed among the almonds were affected by pesticides, to a greater or lesser extent.

My concern with the ‘lesser extent’ portion of these hives is that it may take months for the effects of the pesticides to show themselves, even in surviving colonies – and perhaps especially if the pesticides were neonicotinoids.

Honey bees are super-organisms, meaning that to hamper or harm a part of the colony, ultimately hurts the whole.  

In the case of Bayer CropScience, they fully acknowledge how their neonicotinoid imidacloprid insidiously kills another super-organism - termite colonies (which can reach 3 million individuals), by the varied methods of poison transference through the colony, combined with the sub-lethal effects of that poison.  

Bayer CropScience state it may take 3 months to kill a colony of termites, but that the colony will not recover even after 2 years.  What I am driving at here, is my concern that beekeepers may continue to see the effects of these poisonings for some time, because of soil contamination and uptake by plants - afterall, that's how  neonic root drenches work.

Poisonous Cocktails...

Causing further problems were farmers applying a mixture of two pesticides: an 'Insect Growth Regulator' (IGR) and a fungicide

Insect Growth Regulators (a new class of insecticides), work by preventing insect larvae from moulting; so that the larvae never mature into adult insects. Unfortunately, bees are also insects and although they are not the intended targets of IGRs, they can be just as severely affected as the target pests. 

I have previously addressed this ridiculous situation in a page about non-target insects and neonicotinoids.  It is alarming how patents for pesticide products can provide significant hints about the potential effects on beneficial/harmless invertebrates. 

If an IGR is harming 'pests', what is it doing to beneficial or benign creatures?  How does this affect the whole food web?

Despite this, the intelligent public are expected to believe that these pesticides will actually discriminate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ insects – even for example, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Lepidoptera (moths & butterflies).

But then when you have a regulatory system consisting of tests largely devised by the pesticide manufacturers .....perhaps coupled with compliant civil servants who just might be looking forward to a fat pay check with industry in a few years, what can we expect?

Taking The Cause To The EPA

The Pollinator Stewardship Council and beekeepers met with the US EPA (pesticide regulatory body).  They also wanted to discuss inadequate (pointless?) labelling that has little practical relevance (again, no surprises – regulatory field tests for pesticides don't have much practical relevance either).

The beekeepers and PSC  have demanded a number of actions form the EPA.  Already, demands for better labelling have effectively been dismissed. 


Meanwhile, evidence suggests that neonicotinoids don’t improve crop yield, and that farmers waste their money by using them:

“we found that numerous studies show neonicotinoid seed treatments do not provide significant yield benefits in many contexts. European reports of crop yields being maintained even after regional neonicotinoid bans corroborate this finding. Opinions from several independent experts reinforce that neonicotinoids are massively overused in the US, without a corresponding yield benefit, across numerous agricultural contexts. The bottom line is that toxic insecticides are being unnecessarily applied in most cases.”

Source: HEAVY COSTS: Weighing the Value of neonicotinoid insecticides in agriculture – Center for Food Safety. (report can be found at:

Well, we already knew that in the UK, yields of oil seed rape in tonnes per hectare have barely altered at all over the years, including following switch from pyrethroids to neonicotinoids, according to DEFRA statistics.

Why are
farmers using a poison that does not improve crop yield, when it kills bees that do?

Whether there's a 'pest' infestation or not, farmers are applying poison anyway.......

Of course, some crop seeds are pre-treated with neonicotinoids, whilst others (including other pesticides), may be applied to the soil, leaves or roots. 

Yet there is evidence generally that farmers apply pesticides even when 'pest levels' are below the recommended threshold (they are often advised by agronomists who work directly for, or on commission from manufacturers).

A study looking at pollen beetle prevalence (regarded as a ‘pest’) and the application of pesticides by ADAS (an Agricultural consultancy provider), is very revealing.  As stated, farmers are only advised to treat against pollen beetle if levels exceed a certain threshold.

ADAS graphic explaining points already described in text of page

However, slide 9 in the presentation below shows that  treatment with pesticide occurred, despite levels of pollen beetle well below the threshold (copy the link into your browser):

But farmers could easily be worried by pollen beetle if they listen to Syngenta – ‘Pollen Beetle On The Move’  (copy the link into your browser):


Meanwhile, here is a paper on the ability of oilseed rape crops to recover from loss of buds, which helps put the ‘danger’ posed by pollen beetle in perspective (copy and paste into a new window):

But then, it seems to me that from the outset, farmers have been conned into lining the pockets of pesticide companies whilst humans have been forced to eat poisons, for years - read more:


Will Things Get Worse?

It’s alarming that, using the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), agro-chemical companies expect to:

“reduce the complexity of standards and bringing benefits to consumers".

UPDATE 2017: the future of TTIP is uncertain.

I suspect that what this really means is, they intend making an even greater mockery of pesticide regulations if they can get away with it, so they can line their pockets yet further, and they'll pretend this is all about cheaper prices - whilst neglecting to mention that their products don't work, and that there will be a future environmental cost - and probably a cost to farmers, as more beneficial invertebrates are killed off.

So ultimately, I think the benefits to you and me, will be increased food prices, and a duller planet to leave to future generations.

Copy and paste the following link into a new window to hear Syngenta’s John Atkin attempting to delude listeners with the idea that the EFSA review of neonicotinoid data from independent scientists was not really upto scratch:

Did he convince you? 

No, I thought not….but he might convince a few friendly politicians and regulators. 

Main Link: Neonicotinoids And Bees

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