The first global honey survey testing for these controversial nicotine-derived pesticides shows just how widely honeybees are exposed to the chemicals, which have been shown to affect the health of bees and other insects.
A total ban would have a huge impact on cereal growers in the UK.
Approximately 75 percent of the honey sampled by researchers across the globe contains trace samples of pesticides, according to a study published Thursday.
The frequency of contamination was highest in the North American samples (86 percent), followed by Asia (80 percent) and Europe (79 percent).
Honey from both Germany and Poland exceeded maximum residue levels (MRLs) for combined neonicotinoids while samples from Japan reached 45% of the limits.
"On the global scale, the contamination is really striking", says study coauthor Edward Mitchell, a soil biologist at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.
"The effects of exposure to multiple pesticides, which have only recently started to be explored, are suspected to be stronger than the sum of individual effects".
"The levels detected are sufficient to affect bee brain function and may hinder their ability to forage on, and pollinate, our crops and our native plants".
"Clearly, the use of neonicotinoids need to be controlled". The neonicotinoids are highly effective insecticides with low toxicity to humans, but this unnecessary overuse is also driving the development of pest resistance against them.
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Sandra Bell, nature campaigner at the environmental group Friends of the Earth, called on environment secretary Michael Gove to back greater restrictions on neonicotinoids and pledge to ban them from the United Kingdom post Brexit.
"Scientists showed earlier this year that levels of less than 9 ng/g reduced wild bee reproductive success", he added.
"Nothing short of a full ban will protect our bees".
Neonicotinoids have been declared a key factor in bee decline worldwide, and the European Union issued a partial ban on their use in 2013.
Experts said that while the findings are not exactly a surprise, the threat posed by neonicotinoids should be taken seriously.
"The severity of the global threat to all wild pollinators from neonicotinoids is not completely clear from this study, because we don't know how the levels measured in honey relate to actual levels in nectar and pollen that wild pollinators are exposed to", she said.
"The actual level of exposure can be substantially higher, as the honey samples analyzed in this study represents an average of nectar collection over time and space".
"Honey is made from nectar collected over periods of time, concentrated into a thick syrup", said Dr Dicks. On top of impacting invertebrates like bees, there are growing concerns that neonicotinoids can impact vertebrates, including humans.
"I therefore agree with the authors that the accumulation of pesticides in the environment and the concentrations found in hives is a serious environmental concern and is likely contributing to pollinator declines".
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