Scientists have found that pesticides can cause food shortages due to their adverse effect on bees. Specifically, the researchers found a group of pesticides called pyrethroids that contribute to the colony collapse disorder in bees. This occurs when the worker bees disappear, causing the death of the queen and other members of the hive. Without bees, crops worth hundreds of billions of dollars would not be pollinated and agriculture would suffer greatly.
Due to the profound importance of bees, scientists wanted to investigate whether they could separate pesticides of honey somehow. Researchers at the University of Waterloo created a fully automated, eco-friendly technique that extracts pesticides from honey. In this way, the worker bees will not leave the hive and the colony collapse disorder can improve.
How they removed pesticides from honey.
The team extracted the pyrethroids using the solid phase microextraction (SPME) method. This made it easier for them to measure whether honey levels exceed what is safe for human consumption. It also helps to identify the places where farmers use this pesticide and in what quantity. Due to its chemical composition, the pesticide has previously been difficult to remove.
“Pyrethroids are poorly soluble in water and are actually suspended in honey,” said Janusz Pawliszyn, a professor of chemistry at Waterloo. “We add a small amount of alcohol to dissolve them before extraction using the automated SPME system.”
When farmers spray pesticides on crops, it affects the functioning of the insects’ nerves and brains. This can lead to paralysis and ultimately death in certain species. Pesticides have been classified as neurotoxins, which is any substance that alters the structure or function of the nervous system. However, because they have been so effective in controlling insect, weed and disease infestations, they are now used all over the world.
While the Environmental protection agency says we need pesticides to protect crops and increase yields, they have their downsides. When overused, they can lead to massive bee deaths, which means that crops are not pollinated. Without bees, we would not be able to have food, so there must be a balance between protecting crops and pollinators.
“We hope this simple method will help authorities determine where these pesticides are used at dangerous levels, ultimately helping to protect the bee population.” ~ Janusz Pawliszyn
As part of the research team based in Canada, they conducted tests on honey products there. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspects food for chemical residues there. Pest Control Products Ac regulates the maximum limits of residues allowed. The team found no evidence that the honey had excessive levels of pesticides.
However, apart from killing bees, pesticides They also cause food shortages in other ways. While pesticides increase crop yields, they damage biodiversity, disrupting the food chain. Studies have shown that pesticides have caused widespread contamination of ecosystems around the world. Many studies have also found negative effects on the physiology, diversity, and abundance of certain aquatic and terrestrial organisms.
In addition, pesticides cause a widespread decline in biodiversity in agricultural areas, which comprise about 50% of the ice-free land on Earth. In Germany, insect losses of around 70% have been observed in the last 30 years, and bird species in Europe have decreased by 50%. Major pollinators like bees, hummingbirds, and monarch butterflies have also declined in number in recent decades.
in a European study, the researchers found that pesticides were the only culprits for the lower biodiversity in plants, ground beetles and birds in wheat fields. They explained the differences in field size, fertilizer application, and landscape diversity in the study. Another review tagged pesticides and chemical contamination as the second leading cause of a worldwide decline in insect populations. As we have said, without insects and pollinators, we cannot have crops to use pesticides in the first place.
Interesting Facts About Pollinators
Here are some important facts about pollinators and how pesticides affect them according to US Fish and Wildlife Service:
- Bees pollinate about $ 10 billion worth of crops in the United States each year. Of the roughly 100 crops consumed by most of the world, domestic bees pollinate only 15%. Wild bees and other wild animals pollinate about 80% of crops.
- More than 100,000 different species, perhaps even closer to 200,000, help pollinate 250,000 variations of flowering plants around the world. Insects such as bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, flies, and beetles pollinate most plants. However, up to 1,500 species of vertebrates such as birds and mammals also pollinate plants. This includes flying foxes, hummingbirds, perching birds, fruit bats, possums, lemurs, and even lizards.
- Bees exposed to pesticides recover very slowly due to their low reproductive rates. Therefore, it can take 3 to 4 years for bee populations to recover to pre-pesticide levels.
- Crops that would produce higher yields and quality from higher pollination do not receive adequate pollination due to intensive use of pesticides. Studies estimate that crop income could increase by $ 400 million a year if farms had more pollinators available.
- Pollinators help maintain biodiversity; however, as we said earlier, pesticides destroy biodiversity throughout the world.
- Declining pollinators can also lead to plant extinction, leading to major disruptions in the food supply.
- For migratory pollinators, such as bats, hummingbirds, and the monarch butterfly, their nectar corridors must remain intact. If they are unable to find nectar at any time during stops along their migration route, it could lead to a population decline and even death. Nectar sources can become contaminated or even disappear in areas that receive intense treatment with pesticides and herbicides.
While pesticides have been shown to increase the overall supply of crops, they have devastating consequences on the ecosystem. Heavy pesticide spraying it can cause the massive death of important pollinators such as bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. It can also result in damage to the soil, air and water pollution, and damage to insects and aquatic animals.
Today, more people prefer organic or homegrown products with fewer pesticides used. However, on a global scale, scientists are still researching safe and effective alternatives. Pesticides help feed the world, but at what cost? It will take monumental scientific ingenuity, but perhaps we can have a healthier, pesticide-free food system in the future.