Policy on Neonicotinoid Pesticides

A closer look into the policy on neonics in the United States.

The recent substantial rise in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has garnered media and policy attention alike, particularly in the last few years. Many cities and municipalities have heeded the potential warnings of neonicotinoids as the cause, effectively banning their use on public property. In this next section, I will provide a discussion of policy and/or legislative action that has been implemented to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. The cities discussed below are the cities that have implemented these types of policy.

Eugene was the first city in Oregon and in the United States to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in June 2013. Eugene’s ban temporarily restricts the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on all city property. The ban was in response to the overall drastic decline in the bee population in Oregon, and specifically to a massive bee die-off during a spraying in a Target parking lot in Wilsonville, Oregon that resulted in the death of some 50,000 bees[1]. Eugene (and other cities who have enacted the ban) stress that while this massive die-off is concerning, it is by no means the only incident. Proponents of the ban argue that it is not only massive sprayings like the one occurring in the Target parking lot in Eugene, but the consistent use of lower level pesticides (personally, publically and commercially) that contain neonicotinoids as well. Vera Krischik, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, is a prominent voice in this cause. Krischik asserts a connection between neonics and pollinators’ decline. She establishes that only 10 parts per billion (ppb) levels induce the impacts onto bees, “research also shows that neonicotinoids can have multiple sublethal effects on bees, including disorientation, effects on learning and a reduction in pollen collection and storage. [2]

In Portland, Oregon, the city council called an emergency vote that called to ban the use of neonicotinoids until further evaluation has been done on their effects on pollinators. The ban was put in place in March 2015. The city council voted unanimously to enact the ban immediately. The ordinance applies to most public land in Portland and also stresses the importance of retailers labeling their products that contain these pesticides. Portland’s immediate application of the ordinance was motivated by the bee death mentioned earlier that took place in Wilsonville, Oregon when some 50,000 bees died after a massive spraying of neonicotinoids.[3] Lori Ann Burd, the Director of Environmental Health for the Center for Biological Diversity explained that it is not just these massive potent sprayings that are harmful to the bees; less potent exposure is just as harmful, “Bees who are exposed to even tiny levels experience hits to the neurological function…. They can’t find their way back to the hive, they have less foraging success, they can’t communicate effectively, and they can’t fight off wasps. Those impacts are really significant on the population scale.”[4]

The massive bee die offs in Oregon, along with the urgently passed legislation in response, sparked the state of Oregon’s launch of a statewide task force to look more closely into not only preventative measures for pollinators, but also possible ways to protect them.

Neonics can also potentially be harmful to bees and other pollinators before a spray, as they are often included in nursery plants and seeds. Friends of the Earth, an environmental activist organization, conducted a study to closer examine these effects. This is the first study of its kind, as many studies don’t consider the harmfulness level of those plants and seeds labeled as ‘bee-friendly.’ Friends of the Earth’s study concluded in part that,

The findings indicate that bee-friendly nursery plants sold at U.S. retailers may contain systemic pesticides at levels that are high enough to cause adverse effects on bees and other pollinators — with no warning to consumers…. The high percentage of contaminated plants [54%] and their neonicotinoid concentrations suggest that this problem is widespread, and that many home gardens have likely become a source of exposure for bees.

This study shows the extent to which neonicotinoid pesticides can affect the surrounding environment beyond the traditional use of a massive spraying. It also serves as an important example of how common the use of neonics is, even when consumers are unaware of their presence. Marketing plants as ‘bee friendly’ just because they haven’t been sprayed with neonicotinoids is something some cities want to prevent. More on the extent of the use of neonics will be discussed during Chapter 2, in the actual application of the risk assessment I develop in order to evaluate the use of these systemic pesticides.


Another city that has been taking legislative strides to prevent the use of neonics is Spokane, Washington. Spokane placed a ban on the use of neonics in June 2014, following Eugene’s lead. Spokane’s ban stemmed from similar motivations as a reaction to the massive bee die-off that occurred in Wilsonville, OR in 2013. The ban in similar in nature to the Portland and Eugene bans in that it prohibits the use of neonics on public property, but does not extend to privately owned property. The restricted use of neonicotinoids accounts for approximately 30% of Spokane.[5]

            Seattle followed Spokane only a few months later, enacting a moratorium in September 2014 in a unanimous vote.[6] The moratorium, like those passed in the Oregon cities and Spokane, applies to all city property in Seattle. Seattle differs, however, because it is a moratorium rather than a ban, so it is temporary in nature. The moratorium is in place until more evidence is collected on the exact nature of the effects of neonics. Through their action, Seattle has also called for a national moratorium on the use of the pesticides, pleading that the White House Task Force, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Congress place a similar moratorium on use of neonicotinoids. Along with encouraging federal action, the resolution asks retailers within Seattle to stop selling plants, seeds or any other products that contains neonicotinoids.”[7] While the discussion of alternative pest management programs is outside of the scope of this thesis, it remains important to consider the types of affects that these bans would have on a national level. More on this is discussed in Chapter 2, particularly in terms of Criterion 5.

Some municipalities outside the Pacific Northwest are making changes, too. Stillwater, Lake Elmo, Saint Louis Park, and Shorewood, Minnesota have enacted some type of ban or moratorium. Further, the entire state of Minnesota is currently (starting in 2013) considering a statewide ban of the chemicals. If the statewide legislative action takes place, Minnesota would be the first state to take this action. In 2013, Minnesota passed a bill prohibiting plants grown with the use of ‘detectable levels’ of neonics to be labeled as ‘bee-friendly’. The decision was in response to public concern, and the legislature hopes to encourage consumers to purchase garden and household plants with the pollinators in mind.[8]

Other municipalities that have taken legislative action against the public use of neonicotinoids are Ogunquit, Maine, Skagway, Alaska, Sacramento and Encinitas, California, and Boulder, Colorado.

Encinitas, California banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on all city property in September 2014 in response to public concern about the environment and massive loss to local beekeepers (as much as 42 percent of their colonies[9]), so the Department of Parks and Recreation banned their use. Encinitas takes the use of pesticides so seriously that they are even implementing a trial of a park in the city that is completely pesticide free, and if successful, the program could be implemented citywide.[10] Sacramento has a similar ban on the use of neonicotinoids on city property.

The ban of pesticides in the municipality of Skagway, Alaska is the first ban in the state. This ban seems to go the furthest, by banning the sale and use of pesticides containing neonicotinoids on both public and private land. Ordinance 14-15 was passed in September 2014, and has what seem to be the most stringent guidelines.[11]

Ogunquit, Maine is thus far the only state on the East Coast that has taken a proactive stance on the use of neonicotinoids, passing the ban in November 2014. Maine has been a national pioneer in organic farming practices and apprehensive toward the overuse of pesticides for decades.[12]

The potential connection between the use of neonics and Colony Collapse Disorder has also garnered the attention of those making changes on a regional level. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System is in the process of eliminating the use of neonicotinoids.[13] The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System is the first federal entity to take this stand on the use of neonics. The plan calls for a complete disposal of the use of all neonicotinoids and the use of genetically modified crops by January 2016 in the entire Pacific Region[14]. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System is responsible for 150 million acres of protected land throughout the country, specifically in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington—all of which will be protected from neonicotinoids.


Another federal initiative was initially proposed by Congressmen Earl Blumenauer in 2013, The Save America’s Pollinators Act of 2013. This bill is a call for Oregon and the rest of the country to ban the use of neonics. The Save America’s Pollinator’s Act of 2013 aimed to accomplish the ban primarily through a demand that the Environmental Protection Agency (at least temporarily) no longer allow the use of neonicotinoids,

Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2013 – Requires the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend the registration of imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinotafuran, and any other members of the nitro group of neonicotinoid insecticides to the extent such insecticide is registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for use in seed treatment, soil application, or foliar treatment on bee attractive plants, trees, and cereals until the Administrator has made a determination that such insecticide will not cause unreasonable adverse effects on pollinators.

Blumenauer’s motivation and Congress’ support for this legislation rests on several primary observations about the harmfulness of neonics. Please see the appendix for an excerpt of the official bill, HR 1284, that highlights many of the reasons and concerns. [15]

This bill showcases the level of attention that the connection neonics and their potential effects on pollinator population have been garnering – up to the federal level. Not only does the legislation call for at least a temporary suspension of registration of neonics, but even when regular rules are put back in place there must exist regular monitoring to constantly check the levels, effects, and uses of these types of pesticides. This is potentially an important addition to the bill because often times pesticides are approved for registration once and then not checked again for decades.

Pollinators in Court

Neonicotinoid pesticides have also been at issue in recent federal regulation in the United States. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the EPA’s approval of Sulfoxaflor, a type of neonicotinoid. The pesticide was approved in 2013 after an initial call for additional studies was rerouted to approval with minimal further restrictions added in application guidelines[16]. Initially, the pesticide was denied because of the potential detrimental effects on pollinators.

            These policy regulations on neonic pesticides beg the question: are they justified? Moreover, for every city that has adopted some type of policy regulation on the use of neonics, there are hundreds that have not. The divide on whether to implement such policies rests in the question of evidence. This lack of evidentiary certainty leads to a main question: what sort of guidelines are there for policymaking in the face of evidentiary uncertainty?

Sources Cited
[1] Xerces. 2013. Scientists Call for an End to Cosmetic Insecticide Use After the Largest Bumble Bee Poisoning on Record. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. http://www.xerces. org/2013/06/27/scientists-call-for-an-end-to-cosmetic-insecticide-use-after-the-largest-bumble- bee-poisoning-on-record/


[2]Krischik, Vera. "Protecting bees and beneficial insects from systemic insecticides applied in landscapes." University of Minnesota Extension. University of Minnesota, 24 July 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2015. <http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/plant-nursery-health/protecting-bees-beneficial-insects-systemic-insecticides/docs/protecting-bees-from-insecticides.pdf>.
[3] House, Kelly. "Oregon Bans the Use of Bee-Killing Insecticides on Linden Trees." The Oregonian, February 27, 2015. http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/02/oregon_bans_use_of_bee-killing.html.
[4] House, Kelly. "Oregon Bans the Use of Bee-Killing Insecticides on Linden Trees." The Oregonian, February 27, 2015. http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/02/oregon_bans_use_of_bee-killing.html.
[5] Geranios, Nicholas K. "Spokane Bans Chemical That May Kill Bees." The Seattle Times, July 4, 2014. http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/spokane-bans-chemical-that-may-kill-bees/.


[6] O'Brien, Councilmember. Seattle Council Connection. http://council.seattle.gov/2014/09/25/council-bans-neonicotinoid-pesticides-on-city-land-2/.
[7] "Seattle Joins the Growing List of Cities to Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides." Organic Consumers, September 2014. https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/seattle-joins-growing-list-cities-ban-bee-killing-pesticides.
[8] "Minnesota Passes Bill to Label Garden Plants for Pollinators." Beyond Pesticides: Daily News Blog, May 21, 2014. http://beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/2014/05/minnesota-passes-bill-to-label-garden-plants-for-pollinators/.
[9] Whitlock, Jared. "Encinitas to Test Pesticide-Free Park." Encinitas Advocate, June 15, 2015. http://www.encinitasadvocate.com/news/2015/jun/15/encinitas-pesticide-parks-bees/.
[10] Whitlock, Jared. "Encinitas to Test Pesticide-Free Park." Encinitas Advocate, June 15, 2015. http://www.encinitasadvocate.com/news/2015/jun/15/encinitas-pesticide-parks-bees/.
[11] "Garden City of Alaska” Passes Comprehensive Pesticide Ordinance, Bans Bee-Toxic Pesticides." Beyond Pesticides: Daily News Blog, September 25, 2014. http://beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/2014/09/garden-city-of-alaska-passes-comprehensive-pesticide-ordinance-bans-bee-toxic-pesticides/.
[12] Wright, Virginia M. "Ogunquit Leads the Way." Down East: The Magazine of Maine, November 2014. http://downeast.com/ogunquit-leads-the-way/.
[13] Woody, Todd. "The U.S. Bans GMOs, Bee-Killing Pesticides in All Wildlife Refuges." TakePart, July 2014. http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/07/31/us-bans-gmos-bee-killing-pesticides-national-wildlife-refuges.
[14] Sarich, Christina. "Win! U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to Ban Use of Bee, Bird and Butterfly-Killing Neonicotinoids." Nation of Change, July 29, 2014. http://www.nationofchange.org/win-us-fish-wildlife-service-ban-use-bee-bird-and-butterfly-killing-neonicotinoids-1406642902.
[15] See Appendix, HR 1284
[16] "Petitioners v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency." United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: Case 13-72346, September 2015 http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/sulfoxaflor-opinion.pdf.

Neonicotinoid Pesticides

A closer look into neonics and their impacts on pollinators

Neonicotinoids – What Are They?

 Neonicotinoids are a type of systemic pesticide that have been increasingly applied to farms, gardens, and public lands like school yards. Neonicotinoids now make up about 25% of the pesticide market, making them the most common insecticide currently used,[1] and are licensed in over 120 countries.[2]A systemic pesticide means that the pesticide is absorbed into the plant’s whole physical infrastructure. Systemic pesticides differ from topical pesticides in that they do not only perform on the leaves and/or surfaces they are directly applied to; instead, with systemic pesticides, the effects are manifested throughout the whole physical infrastructure of the plant. This ‘systemic’ absorption and manifestation has, in many ways, revolutionized agricultural practices around the world. The success of neonics in part depends on their ability to be so effective against pests that have developed a resistance to other insecticides. [3] Another attractive feature of neonics is that the application of a systemic pesticide can require much less precision (as the chemicals can be absorbed into the plant infrastructure via methods like seed soaking), and there are many more ways neonics can be applied. [4] Moreover, many consumers and farmers alike are able to purchase plants or seeds that have already been treated by neonics. Often, seeds are soaked in the pesticide agent and the effects spread through the plant as it grows. This convenience has had a huge impact on the modern agricultural world with the most commonly used pesticide in the United States being neonics, with annual crop application estimations hovering around 150 million acres.[5]. Using neonics is extremely convenient and cost effective, especially in the era of monocultures, which are particularly susceptible to pest infestation and spreading.

Along with the benefits of neonicotinoids come questions about the impact on the environment surrounding their application. For example, the neonics often spread into surrounding soil[6]. Moreover, since neonics affect the entire apparatus of the plant, many scientists, beekeepers, and researchers have questioned where the effects stop; neonicotinoids are manifested in the whole apparatus of the plant including the blooming mechanisms. So, it is questioned, are these effects passed onto pollinators that collect the pollen and nectar of plants to which neonics have been applied? Moreover, given the duration that neonics are effective, do the chemicals stay in the soil and systems of pollinators for the same amount of time that they are retained in plants? Moreover, to what extent are the concentrations regulated in the consumer market?

While the effects of neonicotinoids on pollinators is considered inconclusive, evidence does suggest that there is at least some level of harm caused to pollinators by the use of neonicotinoids. The effects can be anything from chronic to lethal, depending on the dosage. Even long durations of nonlethal exposure can have detrimental effects on the health of pollinators.[7] The problem extends beyond simply bees dropping dead at their hives; sublethal effects include disrupted digestive systems, impaired navigational apparatuses, nerve and neurological damage, and immune deficiencies.[8]The disrupted digestive systems and immune deficiencies leave bees and other pollinators unarmed against diseases and predators like the Varroa mite to which they are normally immune. Impaired navigation confuses the bees and they often cannot find their way back to their hive.[9][10]

So, how are the effects of pesticides on pollinators tested, measured, and evaluated? In order to register the use of these neonic products for use in the United States, the EPA is responsible for conducting an evaluation to determine the potential harm (and extent of the potential harm). The EPA uses a three-tiered system that is used for detecting the toxicity of pesticides.[11] The EPA tests for lethal dosages and effects of neonics. Though there is not conclusive evidence of the exact cause of CCD or the extent of harm of the use of neonics, there is a consensus among scientists that the potential for harm to pollinators from the use of neonics ought to be evaluated further for two main reasons: First, the application to the plant or seed targets the infrastructure of the plant and becomes absorbed. Because of this, traces of the pesticide are produced into the pollen, nectar, and general blooming apparatus of the flower or plant.[12], [13] Bees are especially susceptible to these chemicals when they are pollinating. The second reason is that these chemicals attack the system of bees as well. The effect is more than a simple deterrent, but is not regarded as such by many chemical companies, or even the EPA, because of the lack of detectable immediate lethal effects. Moreover, there is inconclusive evidence in terms of the immediate or delayed effects, as well as those that are lethal and sublethal. Instead, the effects are sublethal and often take days to manifest, through attacking of the nerves, digestive system, and navigational abilities.[14] These effects are thought to be significant contributing factors as to why the bees are not found dead near the hives, but instead lost on their way home.[15] The EPA continues to register these products essentially because the conclusive evidence just isn’t there that neonics are the cause of these rampant bee deaths. There is a lot of information missing as to the role that neonics play in contributing to CCD and the decline of pollinators.

In the face of this uncertainty of the cause of CCD and whether or not there is a connection to neonics, how should policymakers decide whether something ought to be regulated? In the face of inconclusive evidence like that surrounding neonics and CCD, are there ways to evaluate policymaking? I argue that there are ways, and that the decision regarding whether or not to apply regulatory policymaking in a given situation ought to be decided via application of an ethical risk assessment.

Based on the potential affects of neonics outlined about (such as spreading in the soil and also becoming absorbed by any pollinator that feeds from the pollen), the use of neonics may affect other areas of the environment, too. Moreover, right now we are spraying first and seeing how the effects play out. In fact, an important point is that we do not need to be operating with such a high burden of proof that neonics are not harmful. The burden of proof should rest with the chemical companies to prove the pesticides are not harmful. Moreover, holding such a high standard of proof as to pesticide harm is not consistent with a commitment to moral or ethical behavior. This high standard should not be a requirement, nor the evidentiary threshold that shapes testing frameworks like the one used by the EPA to evaluate neonics. Instead, I argue that in the face of uncertainty, we should apply an ethical risk assessment to determine whether or not regulation is justified.

Stay tuned for my next post: neonics & policy – coming Wednesday, March 16

Sources Cited
[1] van der Sluijs, Jeroen P., Noa Simon-Delso, Dave Goulson, Laura Maxim, Jean-Marc Bonmatin, and Luc P. Belzunces. "Neonicotinoids, Bee Disorders and the Sustainability of Pollinator Services." Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 5, no. 3-4 (September 2013): 293-305.
[2] Goulson, Dave. "REVIEW: An overview of the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoid insecticides." Journal of Applied Ecology 50, no. 4 (June 13, 2013): 977-87.
[3] Elbert, Alfred et. al. "Applied aspects of neonicotinoid uses in crop protection." Pest Management Science 64, no. 11: 1099-105.
[4] Elbert, Alfred et. al. "Applied aspects of neonicotinoid uses in crop protection." Pest Management Science 64, no. 11: 1099-105.
[5] LaJeunesse, Sara. "Rapid increase in neonicotinoid insecticides driven by seed treatments." Penn State News, April 2, 2015. http://news.psu.edu/story/351027/2015/04/02/research/rapid-increase-neonicotinoid-insecticides-driven-seed-treatments.
[6] Goulson, Dave. "REVIEW: An overview of the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoid insecticides." Journal of Applied Ecology 50, no. 4 (June 13, 2013): 977-87.
[7] Blacquiere, Tjeerd, Guy Smagghe, Cornelis van Gestel, and Veerle Mommaerts. "Neonicotinoids in bees: a review on concentrations, side-effects and risk assessment." Ecotoxicology 21, no. 4 (May 2, 2012): 973-92.
[8] Blacquiere, Tjeerd, Guy Smagghe, Cornelis van Gestel, and Veerle Mommaerts. "Neonicotinoids in bees: a review on concentrations, side-effects and risk assessment." Ecotoxicology 21, no. 4 (May 2, 2012): 973-92.
[9] Hopwood, Jennifer et. al. "Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees?." Xerces Society. Accessed November 17, 2015. http://ento.psu.edu/publications/are-neonicotinoids-killing-bees.
[10] Blacquiere, Tjeerd, Guy Smagghe, Cornelis van Gestel, and Veerle Mommaerts. "Neonicotinoids in bees: a review on concentrations, side-effects and risk assessment." Ecotoxicology 21, no. 4 (May 2, 2012): 973-92.
[11] EPA United States Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2016. <http://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/data-requirements>.
[12] Blacquiere, Tjeerd, Guy Smagghe, Cornelis van Gestel, and Veerle Mommaerts. "Neonicotinoids in bees: a review on concentrations, side-effects and risk assessment." Ecotoxicology 21, no. 4 (May 2, 2012): 973-92.
[13] Demas, A, and K Kuivila. Insecticides Similar to Nicotine Widespread in Midwest. United States Geological Survey, 24 July 2014. Web. 17 Sept. 2017. <http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3941#.Vskb3c5Rfww>.
[14] Blacquiere, Tjeerd, Guy Smagghe, Cornelis van Gestel, and Veerle Mommaerts. "Neonicotinoids in bees: a review on concentrations, side-effects and risk assessment." Ecotoxicology 21, no. 4 (May 2, 2012): 973-92.
[15] Dwyer, Marge. "Study strengthens link between neonicotinoids and collapse of honey bee colonies." Harvard School of Public Health. N.p., May 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. <http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/study-strengthens-link-between-neonicotinoids-and-collapse-of-honey-bee-colonies/>.

Pollinators: Contributions & Risks

Greetings, Readers! The following is an excerpt from my master’s thesis on the contributions bees make to our daily lives — in both nuanced and direct ways. This section also discusses the decline of the pollinator population.

“The bees are the life guarantors of nature itself, so we have to try to take care of them. By taking care of them, we take care of ourselves,” Gunther Hauk – Holistic Bee Farmer.


In 2006, the western honeybee (Apis mellifera) began a markedly rapid decline. [1] While evidence of the cause(s) of this epidemic remains inconclusive, the consequences of a decline continuing at this rate could prove to be irreparable. Contributions from bees and other pollinators include agricultural variety (along with the nutritional value this provides) and economic stability. It is estimated that approximately one in three mouthfuls of food are attributed to bees and other pollinators.[2] Economically, pollinators are responsible for over $150 billion globally in agriculture, with over 70% of food sources in the United States dependent on pollinators.[3] Honeybees and other pollinators are also a crucial element in retaining ecosystemic balances, like pollination, “Beyond agriculture, pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems: they pollinate the seeds and fruits that feed everything from songbirds to grizzly bears. Thus, conservation of pollinating insects is critically important to preserving both wider biodiversity and agriculture.”[4]

The decrease of the bee population in the United States is now quantifiable to a more precise degree, and the figures are enormous. Since 1947 we have lost over half of our domestic/commercial bee population, from 6 million in 1947 to 2.5 million today.[5] According to a recent study, the agricultural community is already drastically feeling the effects. From 2005-2010, the demand for bees for pollination grew 4.9 times faster than the population of bees needed for pollination throughout Europe and the U.S.[6] Since 1961, the land in the U.S. devoted to growing crops that depend on pollinators has increased by 300%, while the population of bees has dropped by about 50%. The effects thus far have been mitigated by wild bees and other pollinators working over time. However, it is unrealistic to rely on this as a method for sustainability in the long run. Further, it is impossible to know how long wild pollinators’ overtime is even a feasible option, as that type of data is just simply not available to collect. Below is a map to demonstrate the population of pollinators and the effects on specific countries.[7]


Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – What Is It?

Researchers, farmers, and others interested in the bee decline have labeled the epidemic Colony Collapse Disorder to describe the drastic population decline in honeybees. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a case that has been increasingly affecting honeybees, particularly the western honeybee. CCD is characterized by the absence of the majority of worker bees in a hive, while a healthy queen, immature bees, nurse bees, and food supplies are maintained in the hive. This means that lack of food, worker bees, etc. are not the cause of the hive’s abandonment.

In an attempt to remove the ambiguity surrounding CCD, U.S. bee scientists defined some of the symptoms often associated with the phenomenon. In collapsed (dead) colonies, CCD may produce the following symptoms: 1. the complete absence of adult bees in colonies with few or no dead bees in / around colonies; 2. the presence of capped brood; and 3. the presence of food stores that are not robbed by other bees or typical colony pests. CCD symptoms often associated with collapsing (weakening) colonies may include: 1. an insufficient number of bees to maintain the amount of brood in the colony; 2. the workforce is composed largely of younger adult bees; 3. the queen is present; and 4. the cluster of bees is reluctant to consume food provided to them by the beekeeper. [8]

However, the ‘missing’ bees are also nowhere to be found near the hive. In fact, cases of CCD do not result in a large finding of a hive’s bees… they are essentially lost.

The cause of CCD remains inconclusive, though there are theories that waft through the agricultural and entomological communities.[9] There are various factors that are thought to have an impact on bees’ population, including mites, lack of nutrition, disappearing habitat, and use of systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids.[10]

CCD started to become alarmingly noticeable in 2006, and since then bee colonies have been collapsing at even more rapid rates. This epidemic threatens bees and humans alike – from well-being and nutrition, to agricultural variation and economic stability. The USDA released a report from their study on bee population and the effects of CCD, and had some dire warnings,

If losses continue at the 33 percent level, it could threaten the economic viability of the bee pollination industry. Honeybees would not disappear entirely, but the cost of honeybee pollination services would rise, and those increased costs would ultimately be passed on to consumers through higher food costs. Now is the time for research into the cause and treatment of CCD before CCD becomes an agricultural crisis.[11]

The Federation of American Scientists, an independent group of academics and researchers, provides a list of symptoms of CCD:

  • Rapid loss of adult worker bees
  • Few or no dead bees found in the hive
  • Presence of immature bees (brood)
  • Small cluster of bees with live queen present
  • Pollen and honey stores in hive

Among the key symptoms of CCD in collapsed colonies is that the adult population is suddenly gone without any accumulation of dead bees. The bees are not returning to the hive but are leaving behind their brood (young bees), their queen, and maybe a small cluster of adults. What is uncharacteristic about this situation is that the honeybee is a very social insect and colony-oriented, with a complex and organized nesting colony.

A telltale sign of CCD is that bees simply do not return to an often otherwise healthy hive.

Failing to return to the hive is considered highly unusual. An absence of a large number of dead bees makes an analysis of the causes of CCD difficult. Also, there is little evidence that the hive may have been attacked. In actively collapsing colonies, an insufficient number of adult bees remain to care for the brood. The remaining workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees. The queen is present, appears healthy, and is usually still laying eggs, but the remaining cluster is reluctant to consume feed provided by the beekeeper, and foraging is greatly reduced.[12]

From 2006 to 2013, CCD was responsible for the collapse of some ten million beehives.[13] Normal rates of loss for a beehive are around 10-30% annually. But since 2006, beekeepers have noticed decreases up to 90%.[14] 2015 was a particularly disastrous year, with losses averaging 42% (the highest annual loss average).[15] CCD has seriously affected at least 35 states since 2006.[16]These statistics portray drastic effects on the population of pollinators locally and globally.

The National Resources Council of the National Academies is another independent scholarly group that evaluates various issues in the country, including CCD. They released a several hundred-page manuscript on the status of honeybees in North America, and they begin with highlighting the importance of honeybees,

About three-quarters of the more than 240,000 species of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators—insects, birds, bats, and other animals—to various degrees to carry pollen from the male to the female parts of flowers for reproduction. Pollinators are vital to agriculture because most fruit, vegetable, seed crops and other crops that provide fiber, drugs, and fuel are pollinated by animals. Bee-pollinated forage and hay crops, such as alfalfa and clover, also are used to feed the animals that supply meat and dairy products. Animal-pollinated crops generally provide relatively higher income to growers than do crops pollinated in other ways.

Over and above its direct economic value to humans, pollination by animals provides essential maintenance of the structure and function of a wide range of natural communities in North America, and it enhances aesthetic, recreational, and cultural aspects of human activity. In view of that economic and ecological importance, this report assesses the status of pollinators in North America, identifies species for which there is evidence of decline, analyzes the putative causes of those declines, and discusses their potential consequences.[17]

These reports, combined with the enormous contributions bees and other pollinators make to ecosystemic longevity, economic stability, and agricultural variation make it imperative that their rapid decline be explored further, and the causes evaluated more precisely.

One such cause of CCD and the decline of pollinators’ population that has been increasingly suggested in the past decade are neonicotinoids (neonics), a systemic pesticide used in agricultural practices. In the next section, I will explore neonics in more detail.

Sources Cited
[1] Bailes, Emily J., Jeff Ollerton, Jonathan G. Pattrick, and Beverly J. Glover. "How Can an   Understanding of Plant-Pollinator Interactions Contribute to Global Food Security." Current Opinion in Plant Biology 26 (August 2015): 72-79. http://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/science/article/pii/S1369526615000849.
[2] Kaplan, Kim. "Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder." USDA. Accessed September 15, 2015. http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572#public.
[3] Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Sustaining the Earth. 11th ed. N.p.: Cengage Learning, 2013. 97.
[4] Hopwood, Jennifer et. al. "Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees?." Xerces Society. Accessed November 17, 2015. http://ento.psu.edu/publications/are-neonicotinoids-killing-bees.
[5] USDA 2012 Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health. October 15-17,2012.
[7] Breez, Tom D. et. al. "Agricultural Policies Exacerbate Honeybee Pollination Service Supply-Demand Mismatches Across Europe." PLOS One (January 8, 2014). http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0082996#references.
[8] James D. Ellis, Jay D. Evans & Jeff Pettis (2010) Colony losses, managed colony population decline, and Colony Collapse Disorder in the United States, Journal of Apicultural Research, 49:1, 134-136
[9] vanEngelsdorp, Dennis et. al. "Colony Collapse Disorder: A Descriptive Study." PLOS One (August 2009). Accessed October 7, 2015. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0006481.
[10] Lecture, The Loss of Ecosystem Services as a Result of Colony Collapse Disorder. April 30, 2105. http://digitalcommons.colby.edu/clas/2015/program/26/
[11] Kaplan, Kim. "Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder." USDA. Accessed September 15, 2015.http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572#public.
[12] Johnson, Renee. "Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder." Federation of American Scientists. (January 7 2010) 8. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33938.pdf.
[13] Walsh, Bryan. "Beepocalypse Redux: Honeybees Are Still Dying — and We Still Don’t Know Why." Time Magazine, May 7, 2013 http://science.time.com/2013/05/07/beepocalypse-redux-honey-bees-are-still-dying-and-we-still-dont-know-why/.
[14] Walsh, Bryan. "Beepocalypse Redux: Honeybees Are Still Dying — and We Still Don’t Know Why." Time Magazine, May 7, 2013 http://science.time.com/2013/05/07/beepocalypse-redux-honey-bees-are-still-dying-and-we-still-dont-know-why/.
[15] Wines, Michael. "Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms." New York Times, March 28, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/science/earth/soaring-bee-deaths-in-2012-sound-alarm-on-malady.html?hp&utm_source=buffer&buffer_share=7418a&_r=1.
[16] National Research Council, “Status of Pollinators in North America,” The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007, www.nap.edu/catalog/11761/status-of- pollinators-in-north-america; Holden, C., “Report warns of looming pollination crisis in North America,” Science, 314, pp. 397, October 20, 2006, www.sciencemag.org/ content/314/5798/397.
[17] "Summary." National Research Council. Status of Pollinators in North America. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.

About Simply Bee

An introduction to the goals of this blog.

Simply Bee comes from the desire to spread information, recipes & products, & invite others to the conversation of conservation & wellness, primarily as these topics relate to honeybees.

What will you find on this site? I wanted a platform to talk about pollinators, their contributions, and issues surrounding them. However, I invite readers to contribute any type of environmental activism conversations or points. The main point of this site is a place to discuss & explore the connection between the earth and all of its inhabitants.

Inspiration from this site comes primarily from my father, a local backyard beekeeper.  Some inspiration comes from my own background in environmental policy. And other inspiration comes from the great minds that already occupy literature and existing blogs.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt. Please help me make this a ‘Great’ Idea Blog.