Jointly conducted by MTT Agrifood Research Finland and the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, the Neomehi project is studying how neonicotinoid-based insecticides used in the cultivation of spring oilseed rape and spring turnip rape plants affect honey bees (Apis mellifera). Based on the first test results, the researchers believe that the use of neonicotinoids may not cause acute harm to bees.
Launched in spring 2013 by MTT Agrifood Research Finland and the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, the Neomehi project is studying the effects on honey bees of neonicotinoids used in oilseed cultivation.
The first test results seem to suggest that the insecticides do not cause immediate harm to honey bees. Initially, no connection was found between seed treatment and colony collapse disorder, while the measured amount of chemical residues was fairly small and beneath the risk limit.
Substances currently banned
The background of the research project is the EU-wide ban on three neonicotinoids issued by the European Commission last year. In two years, the Commission will review the ban in the light of possible new research data.
Neonicotinoids are used to treat the seeds of spring oilseed plants in order to protect these oilseed crops against pests during the sprouting phase. Furthermore, they are sprayed onto the plants before flowering to combat Meligethes aeneus, a common species of pollen beetle.
Neonicotinoids were introduced in Finland in the early 2000s. Given the current lack of alternative seed treatment substances, the ban on neonicotinoids may compromise the safety of oilseed crop cultivation and significantly reduce farmers’ willingness to cultivate them.
Research continues in summer
For the two-year Neomehi project, beehives were positioned in five different locations, each in close proximity to an oilseed field. Among other things, the researchers examine how neonicotinoid-based insecticides affect the apiary’s success. They also analyse neonicotinoid residues in oilseed plants, nectar, pollen, honey and honeybees.
The project also charts possible links between the proximity of the hives to rapeseed fields and death of beehives, and occurrence of bee diseases, incorporating the findings of a concurring bee health monitoring programme, which is coordinated by the EU and supervised in Finland by Evira.
The research project will continue with new field tests next summer. At present, hibernation within the hives is being monitored. The project will conclude with a final report in early 2015.
MTT’s and Evira’s partners in the Neomehi project are Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency TUKES, the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners MTK, the Finnish Food and Drink Industries’ Federation ETL, Helsinki University, the Finnish Beekeepers’ Association SML and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
Chief researcher of the Neomehi programme: Jarmo Ketola, MTT, tel. 029 531 7343, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laboratory analyses and neonicotinoids: Kati Hakala, Evira, tel. 040 489 3404, email@example.com
Information on neonicotinoid usage restrictions from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (in Finnish):