Toxicologist: Neonic honey contamination study “misleading” and “illogical”

Earlier this month, CBC published a news story citing a recent manuscript published in the journal Science suggesting wide spread pesticide contamination in honey.

The story was based on research by scientists out of Switzerland who analyzed various honey samples worldwide. The researchers had reportedly determined that almost 80 percent of honey contains neonicotinoid pesticides. What CBC did not mention, however, was that the levels of neonics found in the samples were insignificant.

Quoting Chris Cutler, a Dalhousie University professor who specializes in pollinator risk assessment and insect toxicology, Western Producer reveals:

“The concentrations detected in honey are very, very low, or absent,” said Chris Cutler, a Dalhousie University professor who specializes in pollinator risk assessment and insect toxicology.

“This recent Science paper is a monitoring survey that does not report anything unexpected. The concentrations detected align with that in previous reports.”

For neonics commonly used in North America, the study determined that median levels in honey were less than one part per billion:

For thiamethoxam, a Syngenta product, the median concentration was 0.1 nanograms per gram of honey.

Clothianidin, a Bayer product, had median concentration of 0.2 ng per gram.

Imidacloprid, a Bayer product, had median concentration of 0.08 ng per gram.

At those concentrations, the presence of neonics in honey is not a threat to human health because some neonics are less toxic than aspirin or caffeine, Cutler said in an email.

“When one considers how much honey the average person consumes… the risk to humans is de minimis (too small to be a concern).”

While authors of the paper admit there probably isn’t a risk to humans, they claim the concentrations in honey can be detrimental to bees.

The Swiss researchers state the risks to bees are when they are exposed to neonic concentrations as low as 0.1 parts per billion. The effects in the paper include reduced foraging efficiency and lower queen survival.

Dr. Cutler, however, rejects that conclusion:

“Regarding the assertion that 0.1 ng per gram is problematic for bees, I disagree. The authors cite papers that actually provide no real support for this claim.”

He also takes issue with the methodology of the Swiss paper. The authors added up the concentrations of different neonics found in honey to arrive at a total neonic level in honey. That is not a normal practice, as toxicologists usually study individual compounds.

“The presentation of their data in this way is misleading and illogical, in my opinion,” he said.

Unfortunately, this challenge to the Swiss scientist’s methodology and conclusion will not see much exposure in the press. Already many news outlets in the US and Canada have picked up on the CBC story and environmentalists will, most assuredly, build upon what news outlets report in order to make the case to ban neonics or pressure retail outlets to remove neonic pesticides from their story shelves.

Like any other animal, environmentalists seek to ban pesticides for commercial or home use knowing humans would be more susceptible to insect attacks. This isn’t the first time the mainstream media and environmentalists have misrepresented or outright lied about the results of scientific research. Unfortunately, it will not be the last.