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UCSD Researcher: 'Bee Safe' Label May Not Live Up To Promise

Holding a bee with tweezers in a UCSD laboratory on Feb. 26, 2018.
Matthew Bowler
Holding a bee with tweezers in a UCSD laboratory on Feb. 26, 2018.

California’s most widely used pesticides — neonicotinoids — are effective at controlling a wide range of pests, but some pests are building up a tolerance and those chemicals have been proven to hurt bees.

That is why, in part, Bayer Crop Science developed Sivanto which is a manufactured chemical that mimics what neonicotinoids do without the negative impact on bees.

The pesticide is considered a next-generation product that has already been used commercially since 2014. Because it is labeled “Bee-Safe", Sivanto can be applied when bees are out foraging.

University of California San Diego researchers have been studying the chemical since 2016 and they think the pesticide still poses a major risk to bees. Sivanto is especially harmful when applied at the same time as commonly used treatments to combat fungi.

“This fungicide with Flupyradifurone 'Sivanto' which is sold as 'Bee-Safe' together they can actually significantly increase bee’s deaths and also their abnormal behaviors,” said James Nieh, a U.C. San Diego biologist.

VIDEO: "Bee Safe" Label May Not Live Up To Promise

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Nieh and his fellow researchers in his lab tracked the behavior of bees that were exposed to the chemical cocktails including Sivanto and fungicides.

The treated bees had a range of abnormal behavior that included hyperactivity, impaired flying ability, and apathy.

The outcomes may not have been noticed by regulators who approved commercial use of the project, because they only monitored bee activity in the hive.

Impacts are most pronounced in old bees who forage outside the colony. Nieh says the entire colony suffers when forages are affected.

“They require a lot of coordination and communication. And all of these things can be disrupted specifically if they are just running around like crazy, uncoordinated, falling down, they are not able to go about their normal life in the colony,” Nieh said.

Nieh is cautious about any product that claims to be a silver bullet, killing only harmful pests and preserving good things.

The findings are published in the current edition of the journal the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biology.

UCSD Researcher: 'Bee Safe' Label May Not Live Up To Promise
A San Diego researcher said a recently developed pesticide sold as a "BeeSafe" product may still put the winged pollinators at risk. You can hear this story and other local news every morning by subscribing to San Diego News Matters, KPBS’ daily news podcast. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.