Imidacloprid and the disappearance of the honeybees

I wrote last year about the phenomenon of honeybees disappearing. Since 1971, the honeybee population has been gradually declining, although starting in the US in November 2006, colonies began to disappear in their entirety at an alarming rate. The disappearances have occurred in the US, much of Europe, and elsewhere in the world.

Research has been ongoing into the cause of their disappearance – initial speculation covered a wide range of possible causes, such as pesticides, genetically-modified organisms, cellular technology or disease.

Some recent research indicates that a family of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which include Imidacloprid (commonly known as Gaucho) may be primarily responsible. Imidacloprid started being used in France in 1994, and bee-keepers immediately noticed an effect on their bees. Bayer, the chemical company responsible for the pesticide, conducted some tests, and of course found that there was no evidence of any toxicity.

While the chemical company has fought to clear it’s product, resorting to tactics such as suing farmers (a high profile case brought by Bayer against Maurice Mary for defamation in 2001 was thrown out of court in 2003), there’s increasing evidence linking the chemical to colony collapse disorder.

The difficulty in proving that the chemical is directly responsible points to the problem with the whole chemical paradigm. Gaucho was granted ’emergency’ exemption in in the US in 2002, after the discovery of a minor beetle infestation in blueberries. Pancho, its close relative, was granted ‘conditional’ registration, meaning it was allowed on the market after only partial testing.

Once the chemicals have been unleashed on the environment, their interaction with other chemicals, and effects in the wild are all but impossible to track. The onus sits on those affected, such as bee-keepers and farmers to stand up to a huge, multinational chemical company with deep pockets, and reams of studies which it funded and directed. It’s a chemical free-for-all with chemicals allowed onto the market unless they are ‘proved’ to pose ‘an unreasonable risk’. As with GMO’s, the lack of testing, or testing funded and directed by the company responsible for the product, is far too weak a standard.

In the absence of proper industry or government testing, it’s up to civil society to fill the gap.

The Environmental Working Group is one such organisation, based in Washington in the USA, and which advocates for policies that protect global and individual health. They’ve accumulated the results of 43 000 pesticide tests, and come up with a list of crops that contain the highest pesticide residues.

The 12 on the top of the list, and which are therefore the most critical to buy organically, are:
* Peaches
* Apples
* Sweet bell peppers
* Celery
* Nectarines
* Strawberries
* Cherries
* Lettuce
* Grapes
* Pears
* Spinach
* Potatoes

Choosing to exclusively grow and buy organic products to begin with makes a lot more sense, and is a lot easier than following the intricacies of chemical politics!

Visit to order.

Have a great week,
the Co-op team

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Tracy

    I am delighted to have found your veg box service, the produce is of fantastic quality and I don't have to worry about feeding my family a meal of pesticides now.

  2. Alison from Cape Town

    I missed your piece on honey bees before, but i am horrified. Locally, what can we do? Is there an SA equivalent of the Environmental Working Group?