Save the Bees: The Negative Effects of Neonicotinoids on Bee Populations
Tamika Diggs
Columbia Southern University
EH 1020 English Composition II
Dr. Renee Reynolds
January 5, 2021

This paper examines several dangers of neonicotinoids, the most widely used pesticide in the
world. Though cost effective and efficient in controlling pests and disease, the use of neonics
should be banned due to the many sublethal effects attributed to the toxic pesticide. The
correlation between neonicotinoids and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a threat to bee
populations and the process of pollination. In addition, neonics have a tendency to concentrate in
soil for years after use and to contaminate surrounding groundwater. Applying alternative
methods such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in place of neonicotinoids decreases the
risks of exposing the ecosystem and beneficial species to harmful chemicals. Therefore, the use
of neonics should be banned and alternative pest management systems should be implemented.

Save the Bees: The Negative Effects of Pesticides on Bee Populations
The argument concerning whether a ban should be placed on pesticides has been a source
of contention since the publishing of Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book Silent Spring in
1962. In her book, Carson (1962) highlights the dangers of pesticide use by describing the effects
of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) on birds of prey including peregrine falcons, osprey,
and bald eagles. DDT has since been banned, but many pesticides are still being used today.
Proponents for banning pesticides acknowledge that while they may present a short-term solution
to issues such as insect infestations, the long-term effects of pesticide exposure cannot be
ignored. On the other hand, those in favor of pesticide use argue that the benefits often outweigh
the risks, as pesticides are responsible for maximizing crop yields while also reducing the risk of
disease in humans and livestock. Within the last 20 years, beekeepers have begun to witness
record losses in their bee populations. The phenomenon is known as colony collapse disorder
(CCD), and beekeepers affected by CCD have reported losses as high as 50–90%, sometimes
within a matter of weeks (Kluser et al., 2010). Research has pointed to pesticide usage,
specifically neonicotinoids (neonics), as a potential cause of CCD. According to research,
neonicotinoids are used in agriculture to kill pests such as aphids and grubs but are indirectly
impacting bees (Pesticide Action Network UK, 2017). Bees are responsible for pollinating most
of the world’s crops, therefore many are advocating for the ban of neonics. However, the
opposing side argues that the research naming neonics as the culprit of sudden bee deaths is
weak, and that neonics are safe for use. Also, government entities like The Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) are concerned about the negative impact a pesticide ban would have on
disease control. In addition, the economic impact on farmers due to a loss in crop yields resulting
from a pesticide ban would be costly. While there would be an initial cost to explore alternative

methods, continuing to expose key pollinators to harmful pesticides should not continue.
Therefore, neonicotinoids should not be used due to their harmful effects on bees. Instead,
alternatives such as integrated pest management (IPM), should be utilized.
Review of Literature
In order to better understand the controversy concerning neonicotinoid use and its effects
on bee populations, it is necessary to review the origins of pesticide usage. In addition, this
review will closely examine pollination and the role of the bee in that process. The review will
continue by more closely examining the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CDD)
and its potential impact on the environment. Finally, the literature review will explore the
opposing sides of the controversy surrounding neonicotinoid use, beginning with arguments in
favor of banning its use and favoring alternative methods such as integrated pest management
(IPM). Then, the position of those against the banning of neonicotinoids, or the con side.
The Origins of Pesticides
The concerns surrounding chemical pesticide use have been discussed for several
decades. According to the article “Pesticides” (Edwards, 2018), it was the discovery of dichloro-
diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) in the 1930s that allowed modern agriculture to grow into what
it is today. At that time, DDT was cheap to manufacture and known only to be toxic to insects.
Therefore, DDT was used to eliminate insects from crops, to delouse prisoners and military
personnel, and to control mosquitos (Zoltan, 2011). Within a few decades, scientists began to
observe a decline in many species of carnivorous birds. Research lead them to the presence of
concentrated DDT in the food chain, which indirectly impacted the reproductive cycles of birds
of prey (McGrath, 1999). Due to this discovery, various government entities have stepped in and
imposed regulations to either ban them, in the case of DDT, or control their usage (National

Research Council, 2013). In spite of the recognized hazardous effects of these chemicals, many
pesticides are still being used today.
Pollination and Colony Collapse Disorder
Pollination is the process of sexual reproduction for all higher plant forms including
flowers, herbs, bushes, grass, and most trees (Blanchfield, 2011). Specifically, pollination is the
process of moving pollen (male sex cells) to the pistil (female reproductive organ) of a plant of
the same species to form a seed in which a new plant will grow. Pollination occurs by either
abiotic means, such as by air or water, or through biotic means by being transferred with the
assistance of another organism. Bees are considered to be the most effective biotic pollinator
and, therefore, are critical to the process of pollination. This is due to the species social nature,
large demand for food, and its ability to remember specific plants (Blanchfield, 2011). It has
been estimated that of the 100 crops responsible for producing the majority of the earth’s food,
71 of them are pollinated by bees (Kluser et al., 2010). Therefore, the bee is considered a key
pollinator and is integral to the process of pollination. Within the last 20 years, beekeepers have
noticed a dramatic reduction in the population of bees in their hives. Scientists have named this
phenomenon colony collapse disorder, also known as CCD. Colony collapse disorder is when a
colony of bees abandons their hive while leaving their brood, or larvae, behind (Watanabe,
2009). The rapid decline of bee populations due to CCD places a threat on the process of
pollination and the success of many of the world’s crops.
The Argument in Favor of Pesticide Use
Those against the banning of pesticides base their reasoning on economics and public
health concerns. According to the EPA (n.d.-a), there are too many significant health problems
that are caused by pests to completely discontinue use of pesticides. Some examples of these

public health concerns include asthma and allergies, Avian flu, and vector-borne illnesses such
as West Nile Virus (EPA, n.d.-a). A paper published by Whitford et al. (2006) from Purdue also
presents strong examples that support the argument for pesticide usage. Pesticides are utilized in
many advantageous ways that often go unnoticed by the public. For example, pesticides are used
to control vegetation along highways to allow for visibility and safe passage and are also
incorporated into many household products such as paints and caulks to prevent the growth of
mold in our homes (Whitford et al., 2006). Concerning CCD, proponents of pesticide use say
that there is not enough research currently available to determine that pesticides are the sole
cause of CCD. Research concerning the sudden decline in bee populations have pointed at a
combination of factors that result in CCD, including habitat loss, global warming, and parasites
such as the varroa mite (Kaplan, 2012). Ultimately, those that support the use of pesticides argue
that the benefits outweigh the risks. There are concerns that a complete ban of pesticides would
present a threat to public health. Without pesticides to protect our crops and livestock, there
would be a reduction in crop yields which would lead to increased famine. In addition, humans
would be exposed to more diseases transmitted by insects that would have otherwise been
eradicated through the use of pesticides.
The Case Against Pesticides
When pesticides are used, many species that may not be the intended target are often
affected (National Research Council, 2013). This was the case with DDT and birds of prey, and
is also the case with neonicotinoids (neonics) and honeybees. Contrary to the studies backed by
pesticide supporters, opposing research has linked the cause of CCD to the use of neonics.
Neonics are toxic to bees and have the ability to alter their behavior, ultimately making it
difficult for them to find food (Hopwood et al., 2016). In place of pesticides, parties including

beekeepers and environmentalists are asking that alternative pest management systems be
utilized. Integrated pest management or IPM is the idea of providing the best level of pest
management without negatively impacting human health or the environment (Blanchfield, 2011).
It is believed that using environmentally friendly alternatives to pesticides such as IPM will
protect keystone species and pose less harm to the ecosystem.
While the debate on the use of pesticides is ongoing, it is clear that both sides have
concerns surrounding public health. Those for the continued use of neonicotinoids believe (a)
that they are the most effective way to kill pests that damage crops and cause disease, and (b) are
monetarily invested in the increased crop production afforded through their continued usage. For
those calling for a ban on neonics, the projected outcome of the extinction of beneficial species
such as the honeybee is of higher concern. In an effort to reach a middle ground, they propose
that alternative pest management systems be utilized. By using alternatives methods such as
IPM in place of neonicotinoids, the risks of indirectly harming beneficial species and the
ecosystem dramatically decreases. Therefore, the use of neonics should be banned and
alternative pest management systems should be implemented.
Save the Bees: My Argument Against the Use of Neonicotinoids
Continuing to allow the use of neonicotinoids will have sublethal effects on non-target
species. While some pesticides are applied to the surface of a plant, neonics work systemically
by effecting all parts of the plant, including the pollen and nectar, with most seeds treated with
the pesticide prior to planting (Goulson, 2013). With neonicotinoids being present in the pollen
and nectar of treated plants, bees and other pollinators such as moths and butterflies are
continuously exposed to the toxin each time they feed (Bonmatin et al., 2015). While an initial
exposure may not be directly threatening, small doses over an entire lifespan compounds the

dangers to any given species. According to research by Hopwood et al. (2016), when bees are
exposed to neonicotinoids it can affect their ability to forage and return home to their hives.
When a bee cannot return home, it cannot bring food back to the colony, resulting in a colony
collapse, or CCD. As a key pollinator responsible for pollinating the majority of the world’s
crops, the implications of a mass die-off of bees would have a drastic effect on the food chain
(Kluser et al., 2010). While neonics often impact unintended species, they also have equally
negative effects on the ecosystem.
Not only are neonics detrimental to beneficial species such as the bee, but they also have
negative effects on the entire ecosystem due to their tendency to accumulate in soils and
contaminate water sources. Neonicotinoid use by seed treatment first became popular because it
was thought that it would have less of an environmental impact than use by spray contact
(Hopwood et al., 2016). However, research by Dave Goulson (2013) has shown that the majority
of the active ingredient in neonics persists in the soil, with the half-life lasting for as long as
1,000 days and can even accumulate if used repeatedly. This persistence in the soil concentrates
the amount of toxin, making it more harmful to the environment. Neonicotinoids are also water
soluble, having the ability to move freely through the soil into surface water and, in some cases,
groundwater (Goulson, 2013). This water solubility and soil persistence exposes multiple
organisms to the toxin, and even allows for the uptake of the pesticide in unintended plants.
Rather than continue to expose non-target species and the environment to toxic neonics, it would
be more beneficial to utilize alternative pest management systems.
Alternative methods to pesticide use, such as integrated pest management (IPM), provide
a safer, more environmentally friendly approach to pest management. The main principle of IPM
is to provide the best possible pest control without causing damage to human health and the

environment (Blanchfield, 2011). An issue with neonicotinoids is that the seeds are often dressed
with the pesticide as a prophylactic when the targeted pest may not be present in the area where
the seed is being planted (Hopwood et al., 2016). This type of preventative usage causes needless
exposure of non-target plants and animals to the pesticide. IPM incorporates several methods in
an effort to reduce pests, starting with identifying the specific pest that is causing damage rather
than chemically treating for the incorrect pest, or a pest that may not be present. Another strategy
of IPM is prevention by eliminating the habitat, food sources, and shelter that attract the pest
(EPA, n.d.-b). Managing pests by accurate identification and prevention methods negate the need
for chemicals which reduces the exposure to the environment.
Neonicotinoids pose a threat to the environment and should be banned in favor of
alternative, non-toxic methods. Neonics pose the greatest threat to bees, which are essential to
the process of pollination and must be protected. Imagine a world where plants must be
pollinated by hand because there are no bees left to do the job. Without bees, grocery stores and
farmer’s markets would be bare of most produce including apples, avocados, pumpkins, and
peaches (Sarich, 2013). Integrated Pest Management is an alternative method that provides us
with significant pest control without harming a species that is integral to the food chain. The
EPA is beginning to re-evaluate the use of neonics due to these harmful effects, but
implementing government policies is a notoriously slow process. Applying the concepts of IPM
now, in larger agricultural settings as well as home gardens, eliminates the need for pesticides
like neonicotinoids and will preserve the environment for future generations.

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