Defining Neonicotinoids - Food Dialogues

Defining Neonicotinoids

Neonicotinoids are a type of insecticide that affect the central nervous system of insects. According to the EPA, there have been uncertainties identified since the initial registration of the insecticide and the environmental impact and effects of neonicotinoid pesticides, specifically as it relates to pollinators.

Recently, there have been concerns raised about neonicotinoids and the role they may play on honey bee colony collapse disorder (CCD). According to Beyond Pesticides, “neonicotinoids can be persistent in the environment and when used as seed treatments, translocate to residues in pollen and nectar of treated plants. The potential for these residues to affect bees and other pollinators remain uncertain.”

Several studies have been conducted on honey bee colony collapse disorder (CCD). The overall impact of pesticides on honey bees is unclear. Studies have revealed honey bees die from large pesticide concentrations that potentially interact with other pesticides. However, the studies have not tested environmentally relevant pesticides with concentrations more appropriate to farm usage. Further, the pesticides detected with the greatest frequency and quantities are those used by beekeepers to control mites. According to USDA Agricultural Research Service, “although a number of factors continue to be associated with CCD, including parasites and pathogens, poor nutrition, pesticides, bee management practices, habitat fragmentation, and agricultural practices, no single factor or pattern of factors has been proven to be “the cause” of CCD.”

However, actions have been taken to prevent CCD. USDA is leading a federal government response, establishing a CCD Steering Committee with representatives from other government agencies and academia, including the EPA. The Steering Committee has also developed the Colony Collapse Disorder Action Plan, which is comprised of four main components:

  1. Survey/Data Collection to determine the extent of CCD and the current status of honey bee colony production and health.
  2. Analysis of Bee Samples to determine the prevalence of various pests and pathogens, bee immunity and stress, and exposure to pesticides.
  3. Hypothesis-Driven Research on four candidate factors including:
    • new and reemerging pathogens,
    • bee pests,
    • environmental and nutritional stresses, and
    • pesticides.
  4. Mitigate/Preventive Measures to improve bee health and habitat and to counter mortality factors.
    The Steering Committee also held a national conference on honey bee health, which brought together stakeholders to analyze the government’s action plan to address CCD. From this conference, the Steering Committee is drafting a revised CCD action plan. For more information on the honey bee health conference, here.