Neonicotinoids Barely Found in Pollen of Seed-treated Plants

Neonicotinoids (or neonics for short) are a class of pesticide that has been popular with corn, cotton, canola, and soybean farmers for years. Instead of spraying pesticides on plants growing in the field, seeds are treated with neonics before planting. As the crops grow, the pesticide is taken up by the plants, protecting them from insect damage.

However, this has been controversial in some areas because of possible damage to beneficial insects such as honey bees. In Europe, for example, three neonicotinoid pesticides have been banned for two years as officials examine the scientific studies on their effects.

Now new research from entomologists in the southeastern U.S. shows that neonics may not be as harmful to bees as they are being portrayed in the media because they are not being expressed in plant pollen or reproductive parts at levels that are high enough to hurt the bees — if at all — as this video with Dr. Gus Lorenz, an extension entomologist with the University of Arkansas, explains:

“When we look at the literature and the Internet, what it says is that neonicotinoids applied as seed treatments are then taken up into the plant and expressed in the pollen and in the nectar,” said Dr. Lorenz. “Well, that’s not so much what we found.”

When the researchers tested corn, one neonic was not found at all in the pollen; two others were found, but at extremely low levels, with the highest having a mean of 2.3 parts per billion. To put that into perspective, one part per billion equals one second in 32 years.

When they tested soybean flowers and cotton nectar, they found no traces at all.

“It’s not being expressed in the reproductive parts of the plants,” said Dr. Lorenz.

Read more at:

New research indicates neonicotinoids not showing up in plant pollen

USDA Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health

Federal Report Points to Many Causes In Dramatic Bee Disappearance


  1. Pat Patterson says:

    Could even sublethal doses have an accumulative effect such as we have often seen before?

    • Steven Colo says:

      Pat – honeybees only live for six to eight weeks during the nectar gathering season. Accumulation can’t happen under those conditions.

    • Roger Esbenshade says:

      Sublethal doses may have an effect. However science has not been able to give evidence of sublethal doses causing any problems. A ban on neonicotinoids could cause substantial reductions in crop yields driving up food prices and causing food shortages. Until science identifies neonicotinoids as a cause of colony collapse which risk would you like to take.

    • There is ampule evidence of neonicotinoids being present in trace amounts in plants. That does not seem to be in dispute. However there is no scientific evidence of it being a cause for colony collapse disorder. It is interesting to read comments about “Studies out of Canada also show that in crop areas where neonicotinoids are used, that the surrounding wetlands are significantly contaminated with neonicotinoids.” What I find interesting is that Canadian bee colonies have been largely unaffected.

    • buckaroo says:

      actually no, not in this instance, neonics
      breakdown even with just the humidity in the air, , they don’t accumulate

  2. William Kolbe says:

    Or create resistance and the bees live

  3. Ian MacKenzie says:

    Note that the only plants tested are corn, soy and cotton – very low on flower and pollen abundance. Bees find very little to forage anyways on these crops. The experiment was designed to yield the “no significant trace result. Studies on more abundant flower and pollen producing plants are likely to produce different results.

    • Steven Colo says:

      I agree that corn is not a big bee plant. But soybeans sure are, as are all legumes. Not sure about cotton.

  4. What has been found though, is that when farmers plant these seeds, neonicotinoids is found in significant quantities in the dust blowing off planting machines. This contaminated dust is then spreading out of the fields. Studies out of Canada also show that in crop areas where neonicotinoids are used, that the surrounding wetlands are significantly contaminated with neonicotinoids.

  5. nancy loeb says:

    Have scientists tested the pollen of surrounding flowering plants (versus only the commercial crop) that may take up the neonicotinoids and may have more expressed in pollen?

  6. Neonics are not the worst of pesticides. They have low toxicity to mammals. The problem is the prophylactic application to seeds of a persistent water soluble poison without regard to any known pest problem. With regards to how they work, it should be noted that they disable the immune system of insects which then succumb to viral or bacterial pathogens. This is what has been happening to honeybees and native pollinators.

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