Crop protection products (pesticides) contain chemicalyl or biologically active compounds developed for the purpose of protecting plants. By controlling the impacts of pests and diseases, pesticides help maximize agricultural productivity and ensure food supply meets the demand of a rapidly growing world population.
A reasonable first assumption is that an insecticide might have an effect on an insect such as the honey bee, yet effects vary significantly depending on the nature of the active ingredient and the formulation of the product, as well as from its use pattern. It is therefore essential either to demonstrate bee safety or to determine measures to minimize bees’ contact with crop protection products.
A complex step-by-step approach to bee safety evaluation begins with laboratory studies and progresses, as required, to include semi-field and field studies. Depending upon the outcome of these studies, tailored use recommendations for each product are established and provided on labels.
Very stringent regulatory safeguards are in place to ensure that no crop protection products or crops posing an unacceptable risk to plant or animal life are allowed on the market. For example, a new pesticide takes on average almost 10 years to research and develop, typically requiring over 120 separate studies before gaining approval to go on the market. While already very strict, testing regimes are continually being refined and improved.
The evaluation of pesticides from a bee safety perspective makes use of study protocols and guidelines developed by experts and stipulated by the authorities.
What really matters in the end in this tiered process is the interaction between a bee and a pesticide in real field situations. In some cases, avoiding effects may be as simple as not spraying when the crop is flowering.
Bayer conducts in-depth research into the characteristics of both pesticides and biotech crops from an early stage to ensure that they do not negatively impact non-target species like the honey bees, and develops to the specific label instructions according to which the products can be safely applied.
Laboratory and field studies, combined with “real-world” field experience, are essential in the development of technologies that will protect both bees and crops.