Produce Sowing, Honey Bees and Pesticides – A Deadly Mix

Depending on which country you call home, April and May are crucial months to sow produce and annual plants. Although it might be tempting to use pesticides to make sure your beautiful plants and savory vegetables stay this way, many studies have shown that not only do they harm humans, but they harm other species as well, like the oh-so-important honey bee. Coincidentally, spring is also swarm season for bees in the northern hemisphere. It is a vital phenomenon for the proliferation of bee hives as it is when bees of an existing hive navigate through fields and towns looking for a new home.

Neonicotinoids, an agricultural insecticide, causes harmful neurological effects to bees, such as impairing their foraging, navigation and learning abilities as well as increasing their mortality rate. During the 1990s, Imidacloprid was wildly used and in the early 2000s, two other neonicotinoids entered the treatment market, Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam. In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority restricted the use of these three insecticides on seeds, granules and foliar that are attractive to honey bees. Our North American yellow stripped friends are not so lucky – a study in the journal Science[1] showed that 86% of honeys tested contained unsafe neonicotinoid levels. Evidently, a precise technology is needed to quantify these molecules. Using the Laser Diode Thermal Desorption (LDTD) technology and the QuEChERS technique, an application note was written on the determination of neonicotinoids in honey (Application note# 1308). Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam and Imidacloprid were monitored without the use of an internal standard in honey samples.

With the extreme use of these pesticides, concerns were raised on the impact they could have on other animals as well as the environment in general. Studies were done on the presence of neonicotinoids in drinking water[2], and the results were disturbing. M. Boisvert et al. developed a multi-residue LDTD-MS/MS method to detect and quantify pesticides as well as pharmaceuticals in wastewater[3]. An extraction method was also developed by Phytronix to analyze the three main neonicotinoids and two others (Acetamiprid and Thiacloprid) in wastewater (Application note# 1505). Smithers Viscient also worked on a liquid-liquid extraction method for 20 pesticides in wheat forage extract.

Another example of restricted pesticides is the fungicide family that controls plant diseases. The broad-spectrum benzimidazole fungicide Carbendazim, is wildly known for its effect on male fertility. It has even been reported to severely affect the composition of the testes of Japanese quail[4]. The FDA banned its use on orange trees and refuses shipments from imported contaminated juices. A fast solid-phase extraction using strong cationic exchange was developed to analyze this pesticide in orange juice using LDTD-MS/MS on a Thermo Vantage mass spectrometer (Application note# 1304).

For all application notes extraction methods on the analysis of food and environment contaminants, click here.


[1] A worldwide survey of neonicotinoids in honey, E. A. D. Mitchell et al, Science, 6 oct. 2017, Vol. 358, Issue 6359, pp. 109-111.
[2] Occurrence of neonicotinoid insecticides in finished drinking water and fate during drinking water treatment, K. L. Klarich et al, Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett., 2017, 4 (5), pp 168-173.
[3] Development of a new multi-residue laser diode thermal desorption atmospheric pressure chemical ionization tandem mass spectrometry method for the detection and quantification of pesticides and pharmaceuticals in wastewater samples, M. Boisvert et al, Analytica Chimica Acta, 2012, Vol. 754, pp 75-82.
[4] Short-term effects of carbendazim on the gross and microscopic features of the testes of Japanese quails (Coturnix coturnix japonica), Anat. Embryol., August 2005, Vol. 210.

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