24 Apr 2015

Bees show taste for toxic pesticides - study

10:52 am on 24 April 2015

A New Zealand bee scientist says new international research that shows bees may be getting hooked on some types of pesticides, only paints part of a wider picture.

The Ministry for Primary Industries wants to be able to more accurately define the properties of manuka honey.

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

A study published in the science journal Nature this week shows bees prefer food laced with neonicotinoids in lab tests undertaken at Newcastle University.

Neonicotinoids are long-lasting insecticides which are primarily used to coat the seeds of plants, making them toxic to all insects when they grow.

There is international debate on whether bees are affected by them.

Europe has banned the coating of seeds of plants that are attractive to bees and, although New Zealand has not gone that far, the Environmental Protection Authority is monitoring developments in Europe.

Plant & Food Research bee scientist Mark Goodwin said there were a range of factors behind why bees were potentially attracted to the pesticides, including nectar and scents.

But he said the fact that the research took place in a laboratory would not necessarily give a clear idea of what happens in nature.

"It's obviously very interesting. The question is whether it actually adds a lot to helping us understand the role of neonicotinoids out there when they're expressed in crops and what effect it may or may not have on bees.

"We're getting a lot of research published in that area that suggests all sorts of things, from one end of the spectrum to the other. What reality looks like out there - the scientific community is still not really decided on that."