Here’s what you need to know

By Rebecca Firkser
February 07, 2018
Photo by Westend61 via Getty Images

By now you’ve probably heard that the bees that make the world’s honey have been dying off in droves. Various pests and pathogens have been named large contributors to colony collapse disorder, the term used for the massive bee deaths, but the most aggressive culprit is a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. A new study has discovered that trace amounts of these pesticides have been found in most honey samples available for purchase and consumption around the world.

The study, published in the journal Science, concluded that as much as 75 percent of their nearly 200 samples of honey from around the world tested positive for containing at least one type of neonicotinoid. Other samples contained as many as four or even all five types of neonicotinoid that are used by farmers as insecticide.

This information sounds frightening, but it’s important to know that the current levels of neonicotinoids found in honey are below the maximum amount approved for human consumption. 

"We would have to eat an awful lot of honey and other contaminated products to see an effect,” Dr. Alexandre Aebi of the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland and one of the study’s authors told BBC News. “But I think it's a warning, and it is a call for a precautionary principle.” 

BBC News also reports that crop industry sources like European Crop Protection Association, which commends the use of pesticides, dismiss Aebi's research for using too small of a sample size. However, Aebi said that if neonicotinoids disturb the endocrine systems of honeybees, as the study concludes, “who knows” what the insecticides may be doing to humans in the long run.

Even though at this point we don’t know the long term effects on humans consuming small amounts of neonicotinoids in honey, the study still confirms that the bees are at great risk here, and that's decidedly not a good thing. While a recent US Department of Agriculture honeybee health survey found that honeybee populations are on the rise as of August 2017, colony collapse disorder is still a rampant problem.

Of course, these levels of neonicotinoids found in honey are just one example of the myriad pesticides and other toxins present all over the world that contribute to the destruction of plant and animal life. It’s now not quite as surprising to find that water, soil, and products like honey are contaminated by trace amounts of toxins. To limit human absorption of all contaminants would be impossible—but it’s still worthwhile to stay informed about's what's really in your groceries.