CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – Honeybees are a critical part of our food supply, but they’re disappearing at an alarming rate.

Since 2006, something called colony collapse disorder (CCD) has devastated honeybee hives and until now, no one knew exactly why.

Dr. Alex Lu of Harvard, though, believes he’s solved the mystery.

A study issued Thursday by the Harvard School of Public Health points to a widely used pesticide as the likely culprit.

Researchers set up 20 hives. Four were controls, while the bees in the other 16 were exposed to various levels of the pesticide imidacloprid (.pdf).

Most of the bees in 15 of those hives disappeared.

“94 percent of the hives that were treated with the pesticide three to six months ago were found dead,” said Dr. Lu.

Here’s the suspected link: Most beekeepers feed their bees high fructose corn syrup. Since 2005, the pesticide has been used on corn. One year later, CCD became widespread.

“The government never measured those residues in high fructose corn syrup. That’s why we all assumed that those syrups are safe,” said Dr. Lu.

Dr. Lu says the bees should be OK if the pesticide gets taken away.

“I would temporarily ban those pesticides for three, four years, and see how this bee population behaves,” said Dr. Lu.

At that point, scientists would know for sure.

The link to the chemical is not definitive at this point.

Bayer CropScience, the manufacturer of the pesticide released a statement saying that the survey is flawed:

Bayer CropScience has reviewed the study for publication in the June issue of the Bulletin of Insectology regarding imidacloprid’s supposed impact on honey bee colony health. The study is factually inaccurate and is seriously flawed, both in its methodology and conclusions.

Although the study claims to have established a link between imidacloprid and bee colony collapse, the symptoms observed in the study bees are not consistent with, or even remotely similar to, those of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). As such, the authors’ claims that their study explains the causes of CCD are spectacularly incorrect.

Additionally, the authors assume erroneously that the majority of corn grown in the United States has been treated with imidacloprid. In actuality, over the past 8 years, the annual percentage of total corn acres in the U.S. treated with imidacloprid has been less than half a percent. Thus, the suggestion that imidacloprid is affecting honey bee health via residue found on corn or through corn products is also grossly inaccurate.

Comments (14)
  1. par says:

    Bees don’t pollinate corn, pollination is done by the wind.Back to the drawing board.

    1. Ken says:

      More like back to reading comprehension class for you. Bees are feed high fructose corn syrup from corn sprayed by a pesticle that is killing them off.

    2. Emily says:

      It’s not just corn that is treated. It’s a neonicatinoid that is used to coat seeds of many common crops (GMO). The pesticide resides within all aspects of the treated plants as they grow, including pollen and nectar. There are many farms in the Boston area that use these pesticides. Many of my fellow beekeepers struggle with heavy losses due to these farms.

  2. web says:

    This is an important story! Thank you! I’ve been concerned about the decrease in the bee population recently. Also, if this pesticide is killing bees, can someone please tell me why humans are allowed to eat it in high fructose corn syrup (which seems to be in everything and keeps changing it’s name so you can’t identify it)…?????

  3. Elaine says:

    The company in question is probably Monsanto and the chemical is probably Round-Up. The scary thing is that high fructose corn syrup is in SO much of everything we eat!

    Corn’s largely a GMO crop now. Do some research because you should know where your food comes from, how it’s being grown, and who’s really making the money.

    1. web says:

      like corn fed cattle….we are basically consuming pesticide in all forms

  4. web says:

    I have made a concerted effort to reduce my intake of HFCS for a while now, and you’re right, it’s in a lot of foods! I think the government even promotes the use of it. I try to read labels, I don’t like when the names of these ingredients are changed routinely to hide what they are. I never liked HFCS because I don’t like artificial ingredients…this is yet another reason.

  5. Steve Smith says:

    Finally a news article that is not paid for by BAYER. Clothianidin is a big time money maker for this company. It will be interesting to see what the OBAMA administration does in light of these unbiased educational studies. Another of the mentioned studies found that 100% of dead bees observed at hives in multiple locations had Clothianidin in their bodies.

    Check the label-many if not most commercial grade pesticidies contain these chemicals.

    When honey bees die so do we. Without honey bees and other pollinators you have no food.

  6. Vasthi says:

    Agree with Steve… this is remarkable that WBZ reported something that is so closely guarded by the government (in the way of the biochemical companies with the consent of the FDA burying the truth of what these pesticides and poisons really do.) If it happens to bees (and other animals when fed GMO foods) what is it doing to people? As long as we don’t stop this and the GMO foods, we’ll never find cures for and beat Cancer and many other diseases. Why do you think so many people have developed so many allergies to otherwise perfectly safe foods? Hope we all wake up soon.

  7. Bill says:

    I echo a few of you in saying how glad I am that this has finally become a more public story. The loss of bees is a huge problem, more than I think is realized. I have to agree with Bayer’s assesment of the study. Not that I don’t think they are corrupt and greedy, however, I can see how the study can be flawed. Not taking anything away from the mighty Harvard, studies like these are mostly crap. I will say though that I’m glad someone is trying to figure this out, but more research most definately needs to be done. To ask Bayer to stop using this pesticide without properly repeating the study and repeating again and again to actually CONFIRM the results and consider every variable, is just plain irresponsible from a scientific standpoint.

  8. Dave C says:

    Interesting article pertaining to pesticides and possibly to us.

    Scotts Miracle-Gro – the bird-killing company?

    The Scotts Miracle-Gro company pleads guilty to knowingly selling poisoned birdseed, and lawn and garden care products containing undocumented pesticides, to an unsuspecting public.

    I recently heard about the most astonishing corporate crime: the American company, Scotts Miracle-Gro, violated US federal environmental laws by manufacturing and selling poisoned birdseed for more than two years. The Scotts Miracle-Gro company entered guilty pleas to all charges in U.S. District Courtand these guilty pleas were accepted by Judge James Graham on Tuesday, 13 March 2012. Penalties have not yet been determined.

    For entire story, click on this:

  9. ginny2 says:

    The bee population has been at risk since before this particular pesticide was released for use. I don’t trust this study any more than the others that have come out before this. Our EPA and other regulatory agencies have forced the pesticide companies to come up with so called safer products but all I see is more risks then we had years ago.

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