Honey, We Shrunk The Bees: Mass Extinction Threat For Beloved Insect?

The words, “neonicotinoid insecticides,” don’t really have a ring to them, do they? In truth, they sound downright ugly, and that’s because what these two words signify is a very unpleasant reality facing the world’s population of bees.

The ugly truth is that bees — already severely depleted — face mass extinction. Uglier still is the knowledge that governments across the world are reluctant to vote in favor of a permanent ban on neonicotinoid insecticides despite various reports identifying them as highly toxic to bees.

A report by the European Food Safety Authority led to the European Commission forwarding a paper to all member states of the European Union that called for a ban on the three major neonicotinoids which are a direct risk to bees: Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam.

EU member states met in Brussels in December of 2013 to vote if such proposals should become policy; although both Germany and the UK were initially reluctant, things began to look optimistic for the honey monster when the European Union voted for a two-year ban on neonicotinoids on crops that are attractive to bees.

In July of this year, Ontario, where nearly all corn and most soybean seeds are treated with these pesticides, enacted a new law aiming to reduce usage by 80 percent within two years.

Despite these strides, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency has refused to issue a blanket ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides, stating that there is no hard and fast proof they are a significant contributor to the decline of honey bee colonies.

Commercial beekeeper James Doan told CBS News that he begs to differ.

“Every day and you’ll look and you’ll see 100 to 200 bees dead in front of the hive. Maybe even to the point of 40 to 50,000 bees laying out in the front of the hive, which is not normal.

“Neonicotinoids, or ‘neonics’ block the nerve endings of the bee, and so the bee is paralyzed and then what happens is they starve to death, so you see the bee shaking, and it’s a very horrific way of dying for a bee.

“People need to really be aware that bees are so important, not just for honey production, but for pollination in the United States.”

James Doan is part of the coalition of beekeepers, Pesticide Action Network, who are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to ban neonicotinoid pesticides.

“EPA is well aware of recent studies and reports illustrating the risks to honey bees, but has refused to take any regulatory action.”

Neonicotinoid Insecticides

Critics have slammed the EPA for allegedly being in the pocket of the giant chemical company, Bayer, who manufactures the insecticides, and whom they claim are endangering bees and other species out of greed.

In 2012, a Japanese study showed that neonicotinoids affect the brain development in mammals and scientists warned that “detailed investigation of the neonicotinoids is needed to protect the health of human children.” Yet, these chemicals are still used liberally on U.S. crops.

New research also suggests that Neonicotinoids are having a negative impact on butterflies. Ecologist Dr Andre Gilburn, from the University of Stirling, explained, “Our study not only identifies a worrying link between the use of neonicotinoids and declines in butterflies, but also suggests that the strength of their impact on many species could be huge.”

As evidenced by the reluctance to change, the world as a whole remains by and large apathetic and apparently cannot be galvanized by the mass extinction of an insect. Maybe the threat of a losing a third of the world’s food supply might shake a few cynical souls from their apathetic slumber?

Neonicotinoid insecticides

How do communities across the globe repay the productive bee, which is a keystone species within the world’s ecosystem? By destroying their habitat and spraying the crops that are attractive to bees, such as oilseed rape, with toxic chemicals. If the bees suffer, it could trigger a chain reaction which may threaten the welfare of a host of other animals and species, not least mankind.

Since the end of World War Two, In the U.K. alone, 98 percent of all grasslands and wild flower meadows have been lost. Consequently, this has had a seriously adverse effect on the bee population, and one day in the not too distant future we could very well wake up and wonder where on earth the buzz has gone.

[Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]