Italian Pesticide Ban Improves Bee Colony Health

A few years back mt expressed skepticism about the connection between pesticides and bee colony disorder. Stronger evidence is in, however. reports that ban on the insecticide-soaked seed coating enforced by the Italian government last year seems to have worked wonders, judging from the freshest data collected on the ground by researchers, beekeepers and regional authorities alike.

Francesco Panella, President of the Italian Association of Beekepers, says:

On behalf of beegrowers working in a countryside dominated by maize crops, I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture to confirm the great news, for once: thanks to the suspension of the bee-killing seed coating, the hives in the Po Valley are flourishing again. We cannot underestimate that there are over one million hectares of maize crops, predominantly in Northern Italy, which means one crop out of every seven which are grown every year in our country. This year’s magnificent and unusual spring growth of bee colonies means a very good production of acacia honey in Northern Italy. We are now anxious to ensure that the temporary ban of neonicotinoid seed coating becomes definitive

Marco Lodesani, director of the honey bee and silkworm unit at the Agricultural Research Council (CRA-API) in Bologna, elaborates:

What did we learn in the past few years about the causes of CCD and the link with neonicotinoids?

Until recently, studies focused on the immediate, lethal effects of pesticides on bees. In other words, they looked at the dose that is needed to kill bees if they are exposed to a certain insecticide.

However, it is now clear that sub-lethal doses have a chronic effect that may be even more critical. When bees fly over the dust from coated seeds, they accumulate small doses of neonicotinoids that do not kill them. But it affects both each individual and the colonies in more subtle, long-term ways. For example, contaminated bees have a weaker immune response. This makes them more susceptible to viruses, which are a major cause of death.

Other effects are neurological and include learning problems, impaired orientation, or the inability to remember colours and odours. All of these aspects are crucial for the social organisation of colonies.

Are these chronic effect taken into account by the industry when testing for the safety of new compounds?

Not really. Testing is largely based on assays that look at the acute toxicity of compounds. But with CCD you do not necessarily expect to see bees decimated right in places where they use pesticides. You need to look at sub-lethal effects that are more insidious and difficult to study, but still involve entire colonies.


UPDATE: The work appears in three white papers released last January. There does not appear to be a peer reviewed version as yet. The white papers are one each on clothiandin, imidacloprid, and thiomethoxam.

h/t to users LooseCannon and super_cookies at Reddit for demanding more information. (That’s all I got.)


  1. Ramble On
    -- Horatio Algeranon's rendition of the song by Led Zeppelin

    Bees are fallin' all around, time I was on my way
    Thanks to Bayer, I'm much impoverished from such an insidious spray
    But now it's time for bees to go, the "neonic" blights my way
    For now I smell the sprayin', and with it, pain
    CCD's headed my way
    Aw, sometimes I grow so tired
    But I know I've got one thing I got to do

    A-ramble on, and now's the time, the time is now
    Sing my song, I'm goin' 'round the jive, I gotta save my hive
    On my way, it's been this way ten years to the day
    Ramble on, gotta find the queen of all my dreams

    Got no dime for civil suits, the time has come to be gone
    And though EPA assures a thousand times
    It's time to ramble on

    A-ramble on, and now's the time, the time is now
    Sing my song, I'm goin' 'round the jive
    I've gotta save my hive
    On my way, it's been this way ten years to the day
    I gotta ramble on, I gotta find the queen of all my dreams
    I tell you no lie

    Mine's a tale that should be told, my beedom I hold dear
    How years ago in days of old when buzzing filled the air
    'Twas in the orange groves of Florida, I had a hive so fair
    But Bayer and the CCD crept up and slipped away with her
    Her, her, yeah, and ain't nothin' I can do, no

    I guess I'll keep on ramblin', I'm gonna
    Sing my song-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah, I've gotta find my babee
    I'm gonna ramble on, sing my song
    Gonna work my way all around the hive
    Babee, babee/Ramble on, yeah

    A-do-do-n-do-n-do-n-do, my babee, babee


    On a less serious note, though many dismissed (or simply ignored) his results, Harvard researcher Alex Lu actually reported study results a year ago (also talked about by Lu here that implicated neonicotinoids directly in CCD. Lu's study may not have been definitive, but it sure is suggestive.

    The Italians and other Europeans actually listened (and looked at the data), but we Americans (including the EPA) would apparently rather listen to Bayer commercials on TV (Bayer produces neonicotinoids) than actually get serious about the problem.

    Incidentally, Horatio posted (or at least tried to post) "Ramble On" and another comment that linked to the Lu papers on the Yale Environment 360 site, but was rebuffed.

    Apparently, Yale does not have the 'tolerance' to (goofy) 'opinions' that the Planet 3.0 folks have -- or perhaps just doesn't want to "offend" Bayer, the maker of neonicotinoids. Bayer is a very big donor (millions of dollars) to Yale.

  2. FYI the top comment on reddit at indicates that this is a rehash of events from 2009-2010

  3. Thanks for the tip. That is incorrect, though.

    We are not claiming that most of this article is original.

    And the quote from the farmer indeed appears to have been recycled. Who knows, perhaps he says the same thing lots of times...

    But the Youris article that most of this article is clipped from is less than two weeks old, and the quotes from the scientist did not appear at the treehugger article.

  4. Meanwhile, the EPA just OK'ed use of another (neonic-like) pesticide: sulfoxaflor.

    But they did issue an "advisory" to indicate just how safe it is to bees:

    Do not apply this product at any time between 3 days prior to bloom and until after petal fall”[during heightened pollinator activity]

    Notifying known beekeepers within 1 mile of the treatment area 48 hours before the product is applied will allow them to take additional steps to protect their bees. Also limiting application to times when managed bees and native pollinators are least active, e.g., before 7 am or after 7pm local time or when temperature is below 55oF at the site of application, will minimize risk to bees.

    From Beyond Pesticides

    Got no dime for civil suits, the time has come to be gone
    And though EPA assures a thousand times
    It’s time to ramble on

  5. Bayer's said their wonderful pesticides wouldn't hurt bees because bees can't come in contact with
    buried, treated corn kernels.

    Unless of course the bees are thirsty and do what they've always done - take a drink from available water.

    This video was posted 2009. IIRC, the Italian ban took place the year following initial problems for their beekeepers.

    Guttation water from neonicotinoid treated maize kills bees / or Die, bees, die !

  6. Neonicotinoid pesticides 'damage brains of bees' April 2013

    "Scientists have found that two types of chemicals called neonicotinoids and coumaphos are interfering with the insect's ability to learn and remember."

    "Experiments revealed that exposure was also lowering brain activity, especially when the two pesticides were used in combination."

    I haven't followed all links posted above so that wasn't redundant. Can Monsanto can genetically engineer a tougher bee? One not so lazy that it will still work for us while brain-damaged.
    (Like American politicians do for big business.)

    HA writes:

    Exactly. Sunday our local paper had an editorial from a prominent climate scientist & IPCC author urging action on climate change. It filled half a page. And on the back of that editorial section was a FULL page ad from recently a spun-off coal fired merchant energy utility. They reassure everyone they will be providing cheap power with all the pollution cleaned up. grrrr.

  7. Bayer’s said their wonderful pesticides wouldn’t hurt bees because bees can’t come in contact with buried, treated corn kernels.

    Another problem (apart from the one you mentioned) is that the pesticide is systemic, which means it becomes incorporated into the plant as it grows. This eventually includes even the nectar and pollen.

    Many studies have shown that effects on bees can occur at low levels which do not kill the bees outright.

    Bees have highly complex systems of development, navigation, communication and hive maintenance which are all intimately related to nerve impulses (which the neonics interfere with), so it would not really be surprising that even low levels of pesticide can have a significant effect on the hive (whether it causes CCD or not)

    Just one example: the waggle dance conveys very specific information about the location of food sources from one bee to many other members of the hive. It's not hard to imagine how a chemical that interferes with nerve impulses could screw that up -- either in the bee doing the dance (picture a "drunken" bee) or the bees "monitoring" it.

    If bees get wrong information from the waggle dance they may fly out to a location that has no food, which, of course, is a complete waste from the standpoint of hive survival.

    This appears to be just the latest example of humans mucking about with something that is far more complex than we imagine (perhaps even than we are capable of imagining).

    There may be a lesson here for "geo-engineering" on climate change as well.

  8. The undoubted fact that we are losing bees is a scandal. That this is not a worldwide public scandal with lots of coverage does not justify complaints that some attempts by people who actually notice harm being done involving some repetition. The bee thing is serious, and deserves serious attention. But as is often the case, when science and facts conflict with profits, even some progressives get skittish for fear of getting their toes wet in the attack machine of profits and marketing.


    Neonics, the most widely used insecticides in the world, have been likened to the hazardous and now-banned pesticide DDT. The comparison was drawn after a group of scientists reviewed more than 800 papers about the chemicals and concluded that they are causing significant damage to animals such as honey bees, butterflies, earthworms, and birds. The study, named the Worldwide Integrated Assessment, describes how neonics act like a poison and cause instant death or long-term damage, including difficulty with eating and flight. 

    Source: The Independent, The Task Force of Systemic Pesticides

    In other news, half of the plants for sale at US big-box household stores turn out to have been pre-treated with these systemic pesticides, so you can buy what appears to be a clean plant, not put any pesticides out, and still kill bees in your home garden.

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