Honeybees and pesticides: British scientists say no connection

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Honeybee

A new study by Britain’s Food and Environment Agency is triggering backlash over a French ban on a particular pesticide.

Reuters reports that British scientists have shot down an April study, led by French scientist Mikaël Henry, about declining honeybee populations. The team of British scientists say the results of the original research were flawed.

Reuters says that the British study, published in the journal Science, does not deny that pesticides could be harmful to individual bees — but argues there is no evidence they cause the collapse of whole colonies.

“We do not yet have definitive evidence of the impact of these insecticides on honeybees and we should not be making any decisions on changes to policy on their use,” said James Cresswell, the ecotoxicologist who led the latest study, to Reuters.

The previous research that the British team is contesting showed the death rate of bees increased when they drank nectar laced with the neonicotinoid pesticide, thiamethoxam, the active ingredient in Cruiser OSR. That’s the pesticide that’s been recently banned by France’s government.

Henry’s work calculated this would cause a bee colony to collapse completely. But Cresswell told Reuters that the French study seems to have used an inappropriately low birth rate, underestimating the rate at which colonies can recover from the loss of bees:

“They modelled a colony that isn’t increasing in size and what we know is that in springtime when oilseed rape is blossoming they increase rapidly.”

The French study has reportedly been cited by scientists, environmentalists and policy-makers as evidence of the impact of these pesticides on bees, which are declining around the world.

Reuters reports that this is what triggered France’s farm minister Stephane Le Foll to withdraw Syngenta’s marketing permit for Cruiser OSR in June, citing evidence of a threat to the country’s bees.