Bees, Guttation And Neonicotinoids:
FERA's response to the Girolami study

In a report, FERA (the UK government Food and Environment Research Agency) examined the issue of 'guttation' following the release of an independent paper by Girolami et al.  There was also an experiment conducted by a group of German Beekeepers.

Having read the report, and the Girolami study along with others, it is my opinion that their assessment of the issue and the Girolami study is misleading, and in particular, in my view uses flawed studies to deliberately cast doubt over Girolami's independent, peer reviewed work.

  • In it their analysis in relation to guttation and in particular, the Girolami study, FERA state:

    “Only one study (Girolami et al 2009) has shown a significant effect in honeybees but this should be treated with caution as the data were generated by feeding collected droplets directly to bees and in many cases sucrose was added to ensure the honeybees consumed the dose.”

    This is misleading, because it
    is made to sound that the addition of sucrose to all of the guttation fluid combined with the direct feeding to bees, is reason to be suspicious of Girolami’s study – almost giving the impression the bees are deliberately tricked into consuming pesticide.
    In actual fact, Girolami added 15% honey only to some of the samples, and other bees were fed plain guttation drops. The addition of honey or not made no difference to the toxic effects - this significant point is not mentioned.
  • In addition to which, and following on from the point above, in regulatory tests for oral toxicity, the test pesticides are mixed with a sucrose solution anyway!

    FERA know this, and they know all about regulatory test methodologies and indeed, Helen Thompson of FERA certainly knows this – she conducted the oral toxicity tests on behalf of Bayer CropScience to support the DAR for imidacloprid.

    In these test, Helen Thompson fed bees test solution mixed with sucrose, as described, via feeders. 

    However, Girolami, was, I believe, more scientific than the regulatory EPPO guidelines demand. He disgarded bees that did not drink the substance – thus 100% of the test groups had definitely consumed the neonicotinoid being tested (he was essentially conducting oral toxicity tests using the guttation samples he gathered).  With regulatory tests, the bees get to ‘share among themselves’ the test substance. In other words, for all we know, in regulatory tests, some bees may have taken the substance, some may not (take into account there may be any number of reasons for this, for example, they are anaesthetised first). 

    Here is an analogy:
    Imagine a pharmaceutical drug being tested on humans, who were in a ward and having gained consciousness again following anaesthetic, they can then (voluntarily) help themselves to a drink (or not) from a dispenser (which happens to contain the medicine).  If just one person died, would this give the pharmaceutical company the right to claim that in 9 cases out of 10, no-one would die from taking the medicine? 
    Well it really depends on how many of the 10 people actually drank the medicine, doesn't it?  The point being, that unless we know for sure all 10 of the patients definitely took the medicine, it would not be correct for a pharmaceutical company to state 'no negative effects in 90% of cases'. 
  • FERA then went on in their report to use a flawed Swiss study to cast doubt on Girolami's paper, along with a study by Shawkti, that didn’t even use systemic pesticides. 
  • You can read more about this and other issues here.