By Richard Levine
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.
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Richard Levine is Communications Program Manager at the Entomological Society of America and editor of the Entomology Today Blog.