/ Home & Energy

Honey I killed the bees! Or did I…?

Two bees on a honeycomb

The debate over use of neonicotinoids is still raging. The European Commission has now placed a two year ban on three chemicals which are known to harm bees. But what about those still on sale?

Late last year the European Commission ruled that three neonicotinoids which are known to be harmful to bees should be banned for two years, while others remain on sale.

And now a group of independent scientists from around the world known as the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TSFP) published its findings on the impact of neonicotinoids. The report, known as the Worldwide Integrated Assessment, reviews the findings of around 850 scientific studies. It concludes that neonicotinoids are bad news all round – not just for bees, but for other species too. The TSFP now wants a full ban on all neonicotinoids.

Should you bee concerned?

Manufacturers insist that the remaining neonicotinoids are fine as long as they’re used sensibly and according to the instructions.

They argue that the research undertaken is not true to life, and that bees are subjected to higher exposure than they would be in the wild. Some say that other factors, such as a parasite known as Varroa Mite, are more likely to be causing bee decline.

The last time we talked about neonicotinoids, H. Mount thought a blanket ban was the answer:

‘As a keen gardener who has hives belonging to a local beekeeper in my garden I feel really strongly that the evidence against neonicotinoids and their effect on the bee population is proven. They should be banned as quickly as possible.’

Do you agree with H. Mount and the TSFP that there should be a full ban on neonicotinoids? Or do you think the action that has been taken is enough? And I’d also be interested to hear if you’ve taken any steps to make your garden bee friendly.

Do you use neonicotinoids?

No (76%, 309 Votes)

I don't have garden (16%, 67 Votes)

Yes (8%, 31 Votes)

Total Voters: 407

Loading ... Loading ...

May I suggest a poll on whether we think neonicotinoids should be banned. Reading this article is very informative but there are hundreds of others on the Web to add weight to an already worrying situation.


I do have a vested interest I get honey from my sister-in-laws hives. Buying plants for your garden also means avoiding seed and plants that have been treated with the neonics.

Thanks Diesel, that’s a good idea (maybe next time!) but we’d like to find out about how widely neonicotinoids are used in people’s gardens. Very interested to hear views about a ban in the comments though! So everyone – don’t hesitate to share your views 🙂

Most chemicals that are harmful to one living organism are harmful to others. That’s why it’s so hard to develop antibiotics that will kill bacteria and fungi without harming humans. The number of gardening products that have been banned from sale in the past few decades is frightening.

I would like to see gardening chemicals phased out. In some cases, safe alternatives such as biological control exist, where natural predators can be used to deal with pests.

The bigger issue is of course commercial agriculture. The one thing we can be sure of is that companies that produce neonicotinoids and other agrochemicals should not be trusted if they claim that products are safe. There is plenty of evidence to show that such claims made by companies have proved not to be true in the past.

I don’t believe that I have ever bought any products containing neonicotinoids. For slugs I use ferric phosphate pellets, which are a better choice than metaldehyde (that should have been banned years ago). For aphids I spray with a commercial product containing fatty acids – effectively soap. The most effective way I have found of dealing with pests is to choose plants that are less affected. For example I have replaced roses that were affected by black spot with ones that are little affected, on the recommendation of a friend who is a keen gardener.

I no longer grow fruit and veg, largely because it was a challenge to do this without pesticides. Maybe choosing resistant varieties could have helped.

That sounds like a good idea Amy. It’s not something I have tried.

As bees and other pollinating insects are vital to both gardeners and commercial crop producers we must clearly avoid damaging their numbers.
As a gardener, I use Tagetes in the greenhouse to avoid whitefly, soap solution to dispose of greenfly, slug pellets to protect newly-planted stuff but otherwise let nature take its course and take what food is left. I’ve given up on cabbages because of the butterfly – even found netting unsuccessful.
For commercial food production we need so much that losing a significant part of the crop is both a problem financially and can lead to food shortages. On the radio tonight farmers growing oil seed rape claimed 25% of the plants were lost to flea beatles – controlled before by neonicotinoids apparently. I am not sure biological control can work on such a scale – and are there consequences from releasing huge numbers of the predatory beasts?
“Something must be done” – is there a solution? Perhaps part of it could be to use our own gardens more productively and cut down on the fruit and vegetables we need to purchase. And grow insect-friendly flowers. Dig for victory might return.

There are various well understood problems with biological control, including cost and the fact that it is often too specific, but compared with chemical warfare on pests it is generally regarded as very safe provided you do not use non-native control species. The Tagetes you have mentioned is an example of biological control.

We might be able to choose to grow plants that are pest-resistant in our gardens but this is more difficult in agriculture. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to do research to find safe alternatives to neonicotinoids and other chemical pesticides, so that they can be consigned to the history books, with DDT and the like.

I think all neonicotoids should be banned now rather than wait until it’s too late. There is enough evidence that they do harm and bees are too precious to our survival, let alone the planet, to risk.

Anthonyh, whilst I agree with this, there does need to be something in place to protect commercial crops. What is it? Does anyone have expert knowledge on a suitable acceptable alternative? Are safe biological controls available in sufficient quantity to take over?

Sophie Gilbert says:
26 September 2014

“Manufacturers insist that the remaining neonicotinoids are fine” – I’m not sure how we can expect manufacturers to ever admit that their products aren’t safe. See the tobacco industry and its continued effort to undermine unbiased and overwhelming scientific findings.

“As long as they’re used sensibly and according to the instructions.” – Here we go, the cop out, it’s our fault if we misuse the product…

“They argue that the research undertaken is not true to life, and that bees are subjected to higher exposure than they would be in the wild.” – So? It doesn’t follow that lower exposure is harmless.

“Some say that other factors, such as a parasite known as Varroa Mite, are more likely to be causing bee decline.” – Aye, and it’s seals who deplete the seas of fish if you believe the fishing industry (that’s what they claimed at some point anyway).

Let’s ban the darned things!

I think we can discount the views of manufacturers. Manufacturers tend to say that their products are safe.

Three neonicotinoids have been ‘banned’, but that is actually a restriction on what they can be used for rather than an outright ban. What are farmers doing? Are they using other neonicotinoids that have not been banned to control pests or perhaps organophosphates, which are much more harmful to humans.

We can choose not to use these pesticides in our own gardens and allotments, but how are farmers coping? Most of us are dependent on food we buy and we want it at an affordable price. I really think we could do with some input from farmers.

Sophie Gilbert says:
3 October 2014

It would indeed be interesting to hear what the farming community thinks. I worked for a wildlife conservation charity for 24 years and I know that farmers are far more interested in wildlife and its welfare that the general public might think. No doubt they find themselves in a predicament more often than they would like.

Mirjam Bout says:
26 September 2014

Hi, it’s has been scientifically proven that bees do’nt like wifi. There has been a test by a scientist who put a wifi router near a bee hive and most off the bees did not return. Everybody is talking about pesticides and it’s a good thing there are more and more being banned. But isn’t it distinct that since there is more and more wifi and Umts masts everywhere the bees are declining? Please take this with you in the discussion. Bees navigate on elektro magnetic feelds on earth, like lot’s of species of animals. All the man made elektro magnetic fields are disturbing natures way.

Thank you, Mirjam from Holland.

That is very interesting Mirjam. Do Cosumentenbund have any policies on this? Ufortunately I do not speak Dutch and it is very laborious to translate slowly through their site!

P.S. do you have any links in English : )?

Mirjam says:
27 September 2014

Hai Diesel,

Here are some links for you about this subject mosltly in english 🙂


And this very interesting movie on Youtube, very worthswhile to watch completely.


The subject is not widely spread yet, unfortunately.

Hope to hear your rseponse and foundings?


Mirjam says:
27 September 2014

Hasi Diesel, in the movie on Youtube there you can see a test with bees and wifi.

I try to garden in the ‘monty Don’ method, he said, encourage as many birds into your garden as you can, by planting bushes for nesting sites and cover, also by giving them winter feed. If you can do this they will take care of unwanted pests.
I believe very strongly that all neonicotinoids should be banned. I live next to arable fields and the farmers never seem to stop spraying one thing or another. At the moment we have potatoes, did you know that they are sprayed every 10 days with a fungicide, right through the season. Then just before they are harvested, the whole crop is sprayed with weed killer(as this apparently causes the potatoes to have a growth spurt) Something to think about next time we are enjoying our mash!

I am told half of the grain grown in the world goes to feed livestock. Thats a very inefficient way to make food. Eating less might be a start if industrial farming is poisoning the planet.

It is reasonably well-known that post WW2 Brtain was actually a very healthy country because people perforce eat less due to rationing. Given the choice of risking a planet without the vital pollinators I think most people would eat less …and save money in the process.

I think getting the pest- management side running without a last resort option might concentrate efforts much more effectively. The build up of neonics in the soil as illustrated in my first link at the start of the conversation shows that neonics are very potent and they last a lot longer than the manufacturers say they do.

An update from the Which? Gardening team – Bayer is to reformulate its Provado Ultimate Bug Killer for 2016 so that it no longer contains a neonicotinoid. Bayer said: ‘We are introducing this active ingredient [deltamethrin] as a proactive step in recognition of the likelihood that the regulations and legislation around neonicotinoids will alter.’

Thanks Lauren. As I understand it, neonicotinoids were introduced because of their low toxicity to humans and other animals. We now know about their impact on bees. I’m certainly not keen on continued use of neonicotinoids but there are already concerns about the safety of deltamethrin for humans. Hopefully the impact will be monitored carefully.

Conventional pesticides are always going to risk our health, because anything harmful to one form of life is likely to affect others (antibiotics are an exception to this rule). We should be putting into efforts to find biological control agents (effectively natural predators) that are effective and practical for use in agriculture.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I’m well aware of this, Duncan. Pesticides used in agriculture and home gardeners are non-specific and will destroy beneficial species. That’s why biological control is a much better alternative, but we are a long way off tackling most of our problems with pests.