The Real Story on Neonics

Honey bees and other pollinators are important not only to agriculture, but also to the gardens and landscapes that people enjoy in both urban and rural environments. For more than 30 years, Bayer has been a leader in finding solutions to the problems affecting honey bees with committed interest in promoting pollinator health.

Most experts agree that honey bee health is impacted by multiple factors, including climate, parasites, diseases, food availability, genetics, and beekeeping or agricultural management practices. While pesticides, especially neonicotinoids (neonics), are among the most studied of all factors, there is little evidence that the registered uses are affecting colony health. Although some believe neonicotinoid insecticides may be involved, extensive research and scientific data have shown that these products do not represent a long-term threat to bee colonies when used as directed by the product labels. In fact, annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture have shown the actual number of colonies in the U.S. has been on the rise, and in 2014 reached their highest level in 20 years. Recent research includes more than 18 large-scale field studies and a three-year study recently published by University of Maryland researchers, who found that field-relevant exposures of neonics have negligible effects on honey bee colony health.

Recently, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released pollinator risk assessments for neonicotinoids, as well as a new policy aimed at protecting honey bees. For the first time, EPA issued a formal policy related to how pesticides are used when managed honey bee colonies are present, particularly when flowers are blooming and pollinators are likely to be visiting. EPA’s recent policy and assessments show that the modern agriculture tools farmers depend on can be important tools for agriculture sustainability, and they’ve now balanced pollinator protection with giving growers the flexibility to protect their crops.

Farmers in a Pollinator Field

Agricultural crops which honey bees use for foraging include canola/oilseed rape, fruits and vegetables.

With hundreds of studies conducted, we know more about neonics and bees than any other pesticide. The use of neonicotinoid insecticides in agriculture has been considered by many as having revolutionized the farmers’ ability to control damaging pests. Introduced two decades ago, they were adopted by farmers around the world because of their effectiveness in controlling harmful and destructive crop pests, some of which had developed resistance to other insecticides already on the market.

Bans and restrictions on neonic seed treatments would reduce a farmers’ ability to produce high quality affordable food in a sustainable manner. Research shows that neonics are the most widely-used insecticides in commodity crops and are used on 135 million acres annually, representing 56 percent of the 240 million total planted acres. They are critical to growers’ integrated pest management programs and profitability. Without them, farmers are forced to resort to older, more dangerous practices that have shown harm to the environment. The use of neonics provides one of the best ways to protect people, pets and property from destructive pests, without harming pollinators when used according to label directions.

Today, neonicotinoid-based products have replaced many older agricultural crop protection products because of their excellent operator safety and relatively favorable environmental profile.