After a limited ban was placed on neonicotinoid pesticides in the spring of 2014 by the European Union, the hope for beekeepers and honey lovers was that the continent would see an immediate decrease in the amount of the pesticide in honey. Now, almost four years later, nearly one fourth of honey samples out of Great Britain are still contaminated, according to a new study. These potent pesticides remain abundant in farmlands, meaning they still present a critical risk to honeybees and other essential pollinating species.

Neonicotinoids remain the most commonly used type of insecticide in the world, but the evidence continues to pile up showing they pose a serious threat to pollinators, which is why the EU banned their use for various flowering crops. The study’s new findings may yet pressure the EU toward prohibiting outdoor use of these pesticides entirely, as a vote is expected on the issue soon. The neonicotinoids found in recent honey samples fortunately weren’t at dangerous levels for human health.

As many scientists will tell you, honey is considered a good illustration of its local environment, and research published back in October showed worldwide contamination by neonicotinoid pesticides, with three quarters of the samples containing neonicotinoids. This new research, which was based on samples from all over Britain, went farther by comparing the rates of contamination before the EU ban and afterward. “While the frequency of neonicotinoid contaminated samples fell once the EU ban was in place, our data suggest that these pesticides remain prevalent in the farming environment,” Ben Woodcock, who is with the UK’s Center for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), said.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are used mainly through seed treatment, allowing them to be absorbed throughout plants, including the pollen and nectar bees collect. However, only 2-20 percent of the pesticide’s chemicals are taken up, meaning the rest remains within the soil to degrade slowly for years. “[Our] results suggest mass flowering crops [such as oilseed rape] may contain neonicotinoid residues where they have been grown on soils contaminated by previously seed-treated crops,” said the researchers in their study, which was published by the journal PLOS One. They also found positive correlations between pesticide residue within honey and the amount of oilseed rape growing near hives.

Honey samples that were analyzed for the study were provided via amateur beekeepers, coming from singular locations. “The results of this national survey suggest that the EU moratorium on neonicotinoid use for mass-flowering crops has been only partially effective in reducing exposure risk to bees,” the researchers said. To further investigate this issue, the CEH is coming up with a national project to monitor pesticide residue within honey samples that are sent in via professional and amateur beekeepers.

Copyright: olga_k / 123RF Stock Photo

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