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Daily News Blog

18
May

Beehive Products Contain Concentration of Pesticide Residues High Enough To Be a Risk to Consumer Health

(Beyond Pesticides, May 18, 2023) A study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology finds pesticide residues in beehive products pose a safety risk from dietary consumption. Beehive products (i.e., bee bread, propolis, beeswax, and royal jelly) from beekeeping or apiculture are said to have nutraceutical (health and medicinal benefits) properties. However, a wide range of pesticide residues (i.e., tau-fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorfenvinphos, chlorpyrifos, and amitraz), especially acaricides for killing ticks and mites in hives, may accumulate in beehive products up to concentrations that pose a potential health risk.

Environmental contaminants like pesticides are ubiquitous in the environment, with 90 percent of Americans having at least one pesticide compound in their body. Many of these chemical compounds remain in soils, water (solid and liquid), and the surrounding air at levels exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. Therefore, individuals still encounter pesticide compounds at varying concentrations, adding to the toxic body burden of those harmful chemicals currently in use.

The research methodology includes a review of the scientific literature on pesticide contamination in hive products and a dietary risk assessment. The risk assessment calculation uses scientific studies to determine the recommended daily intake values and concentration data. Researchers compare exposure values in products to health-based guidance, determining the potential acute and chronic health risks to consumers. The results highlight that tau-fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorfenvinphos, chlorpyrifos, and amitraz are the most common active ingredients in beehive products, with acaricides being the most frequently detectable pesticide subtype. However, the report’s estimation for pesticide accumulation in beeswax comb honey suggests that coumaphos and chlorfenvinphos mount up to levels posing a potential health risk to consumers.

The United Nations states that 80 percent of the 115 top global food crops depend on insect pollination, with one-third of all U.S. crops depending on pollinators, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, research finds that many insect populations, including managed and wild pollinators, are collapsing. A systematic review of insect population decline studies published in 2019 found that 41% of insect species worldwide are declining. The declines of butterflies, wild bumblebees, and honey bees have links to hazardous pesticide use in conventional agricultural systems. Since 1990, roughly a quarter of the global insect population has been vanishing, according to research published in Science. This research finds worldwide trends in declines in terrestrial insect biomass to be nearly 1% each year (~9% each decade). Despite habitat fragmentation and climate change, extensive use of pesticides, like neonicotinoids, sulfoxaflor, pyrethroids, fipronil, and organophosphates, increase the potential risk and indiscriminate threat to all insects. Most animals on Earth are insects, which play a significant role in sustaining the ecosystem, despite their size. Insects found in nature preserves are consistently contaminated with over a dozen pesticides, calling into question the ability of these areas to function as refuges for threatened and endangered species. Research shows that residues from neonicotinoids (including seed treatments) and sulfoxaflor accumulate and translocate to pollen and nectar of treated plants. Pyrethroids and fipronil impair bee learning, development, and behavioral function, reducing survivability and colony fitness. However, inert ingredients in these products cause similar or more severe impacts on insect populations, such as disruption in bee learning behavior through exposure to low doses of surfactants. With the global reliance on pollinator-dependent crops increasing over the past decades, a lack of pollinators threatens food security and stability for current and future generations.

This review highlights the pervasiveness of pesticide residues as the presence in consumer products considered beneficial to health puts individuals across the globe at health risk. Even with a partial ban on neonicotinoid insecticides in the U.K. in 2014, 25 percent of British honey still contains residue of these “potent, bee-killing” pesticides. Research shows that residues from neonicotinoids (including seed treatments) and sulfoxaflor accumulate and translocate to pollen and nectar of treated plants. Like this study, previous research frequently detects pesticides like fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorpyrifos, chlorothalonil, amitraz, pendamethalin, endosulfan, fenpropathrin, esfenvalerate, and atrazine in beehives. Like acaricides in the study, miticides and fungicides contaminate wax, pollen, and bees at concentrations that pose significant health risks. Scientific literature documents elevated rates of acute and chronic health effects among people exposed to pesticides, with increasing numbers of studies associated with both specific and a range of illnesses. Some common diseases affecting the public’s health also have links to pesticide exposure, including asthma, learning disabilities, birth abnormalities, reproductive dysfunction, endocrine disruption like diabetes, brain and nervous system disorders, and several types of cancer. 

To mitigate the risks associated with chemical exposure from toxic pesticides, advocates say the manufacturing and use of pesticides need addressing, first and foremost. Global leaders should curtail the continued manufacturing of chemical pollutants that readily contaminate the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears to discount threats like the insect apocalypse, evidenced by a 75% decline in insect abundance, threatening global ecosystems and food production that depends on animal pollination. If pesticide use and manufacturing are amplifying the contamination of consumer products, especially through residue transfer, advocates argue that it is essential to advance change by adopting pesticide policy and regulations that eliminate petrochemical pesticide and fertilizer use, while supporting the transition to organic practices. 

Pollinators (such as bees, monarch butterflies, and bats) are a bellwether for environmental stress, as individuals and as colonies. Commercial beekeepers continue to experience bee declines as high as 90 percent in hives across the county. As pollinator and insect life continue to decline globally, it is critical to understand and restrict widely used chemicals. Additionally, substitutions the agrichemical industry have developed to replace them are still deplorable and harmful. Pesticide risk assessments do not adequately capture the range of harm that can occur when pesticide exposures occur  in combination, necessitating a shift to safer, alternative, and regenerative organic farming systems that do not use these dangerous chemicals. Since there is a tremendous reliance on many pollinators for essential services, like pollinating a third of food production, it has become critical to avoid using these chemicals and instead look for safer alternatives to managing pests in homes, gardens, schools, and communities. Pesticides intensify pollinators’ vulnerability to health risks (such as pathogens and parasites), with pesticide-contaminated conditions limiting colony productivity, growth, and survival. However, ending toxic pesticide use can alleviate the harmful impacts of these chemicals on species and ecosystem health. Beyond Pesticides captured the bigger picture in its introduction to its 2017 National Pesticide Forum, Healthy Hives, Healthy Lives, Healthy Land: “Complex biological communities support life.”

Learn more about the science and resources behind pesticides’ impact on pollinators, including bee pollinator decline, and take action against the use of pesticides. To find out more about what you can do to protect bees and other pollinators, check out information on the BEE Protective Campaign, pollinator-friendly landscapes, pollinator-friendly seeds, pesticide-free zones, bee-friendly habitats, and what you, or your Members of Congress and EPA, must do to protect our pollinators. For more information on the insect apocalypse, see the Beyond Pesticides article “Tracking Biodiversity: Study Cites Insect Extinction and Ecological Collapse” from our journal, Pesticides and You.

Furthermore, buying, growing, and supporting organic agriculture can help eliminate the extensive use of pesticides in the environment. Organic land management eliminates the need for toxic agricultural pesticides. For more information on how organic is the right choice for consumers and the farmworkers who grow our food, see the Beyond Pesticides webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture. 

Spring is around the corner, so get ready to grow your spring garden the organic way by Springing into Action, pledging to eliminate toxic pesticide use.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Food and Chemical Toxicology

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