There has been an exciting new advance in the ability to “read” the presence and amount of a pesticide in honey, and it is a relatively easy process.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada have discovered that a common insecticide that is a major hazard for honeybees is now detectable in honey due to a simple new testing method.

They developed a fully automated and environmentally friendly technique that extracts pyrethroids from honey. These pyrethroids are one of two main groups of pesticides that play a role in colony collapse disorder (CCD) in bees. Hives suffer from CCD collapse when the worker bees abandon the hive and leave the queen bee and other bees behind to die.

This 3:42-minute video by nature video discusses the effects of pesticides on bees:



Crops valued at hundreds of billions of dollars must be pollinated by honeybees every year, and farmers and agricultural producers count on bees to get the job done.  

Pyrethroids have been difficult to extract traditionally because of the chemical properties. Now pyrethroids can be extracted with the solid phase microextraction (SPME) method. This makes it easier to measure and determine whether the level of pesticide in the honey is above what is considered safe for human consumption. The test also helps to identify the areas and locations where farmers are actively using the pesticide and in what amounts.

Waterloo’s chemistry professor, Janusz Pawliszyn, clarifies that pyrethroids are suspended in honey, and are poorly soluble in water. A small amount of added alcohol dissolves them prior to extraction by the automated SPME system.

These neurotoxin pesticides are sprayed on crops by farmers. They affect the way the brain and nerves work, and cause paralysis and death in insects.

Pawliszyn says that everyone hopes that this very easy method will help authorities to know where these pesticides are being used at unsafe levels so the honeybee population can be helped and protected.

In Canada, food is tested for chemical residues by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The Pest Control Products Act regulates maximum residue limits. The honey products that were tested by the research team were found to contain allowable levels of the pesticide.

Here is the scientific article as it appears in Science Direct. To see research carried out in 2018 on the safety of pyrethroids as used in insecticides, please go here

It stands to reason that if bees are consuming pesticides that we are very likely to be consuming them as well in both honey and possibly in some fruits and vegetables.

Although research and testing indicate the pesticide is present in "safe" levels in the honey that was tested, it seems clear that what goes around eventually comes back around to us.