DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And now some bad news for bees. There is new evidence that they are being harmed by some widely used pesticides though it may be only if the bees already are vulnerable. Here's NPR's Dan Charles.
DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: These pesticides are called neonicotinoids or neonics. They're usually coated on seeds like corn and soybean seeds before planting. Laboratory experiments show they're highly toxic to bees, but the company that sells most of them, Bayer, has argued there's no good evidence that they harm bees in the real world on farms. So Richard Pywell from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in the United Kingdom organized a field study.
RICHARD PYWELL: It was across three European countries - so that was Hungary, Germany and the United Kingdom - on 33 commercial farms. So it was unprecedented in its scale.
CHARLES: It was also partially funded by companies that make neonics. This week, the journal Science published the results. Pywell and his colleagues found that honeybees and wild bees that were living near crops treated with neonics generally did not do as well. They had more trouble reproducing. Colonies were less likely to survive the winter. Pywell says it's cause for concern. There was a big exception, though. In Germany, bees living near neonic-treated crops did just fine.
PYWELL: We think this is a really interesting finding.
CHARLES: Pywell says the bees in Germany were relatively free of parasites and disease. Also, they were able to find a lot more wildflowers to feed on, so they were healthier and the pesticide didn't bother them. Another neonic study, published alongside Pywell's this week, shows that bees near cornfields in Canada are getting potentially harmful doses of neonics all summer long in pollen that they gather. Amro Zayed from York University in Toronto says it wasn't pollen from the crops that had been treated with neonics.
AMRO ZAYED: Most of the pollen, 99 percent of the pollen, was actually from wild plants.
CHARLES: Apparently, neonic residues in farm fields get dissolved in water and then are taken up by the roots of wild plants. European regulators have imposed a partial moratorium on neonicotinoid use. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency is taking a closer look at the pesticides, but it hasn't proposed any new restrictions on them. Dan Charles, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPIRO'S "MARINEVILLE")
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