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A Sting in the Tale for Neonicotinoids

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Did you know one out of every three mouthfuls of your meal is a product of honeybee pollination—almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits, vegetables? To put numbers behind it, honeybee pollination amounts to about $15 billion of U.S. agriculture annually through increased yields and superior quality harvests.

So why are we buzzing about bees? Well, since 2006, beekeepers noticed a mysterious phenomenon plaguing honeybees at an alarming rate, colony collapse disorder (CCD), dead colony syndrome.

While much research is underway to determine the cause of CCD, a study by Harvard School of Public Health found neonicotinoids—a class of insecticide—are the prime suspect, which significantly harms honey bee colonies.

Neonicotinoids as insecticides go way back even before the 1940s. Meaning “new nicotine-like insecticides,” it impacts receptors in the nerve synapse. Of the seven neonicotinoids, six are commonly used for pest control in crops — imidacloprid, acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam. The seventh, nithiazine is primarily used on external parasites of livestock and pets such as fleas.  

Plant tissue absorbs the chemical allowing it to seep into nectar and pollen to protect crops from sap-sucking insects and those who chew on it — bees and other like insects.  The key issue from the systemic action of neonicotinoids is its ability to remain toxic within the plant for longer than other insecticides from months to even years!

Video: Neonicotinoids Banned in EU: How They Harm Bees

The  EU banned most neonicotinoids since 2013, and last year, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to enforce rules to reduce the number of acres planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds by 80 percent by 2017 and the province stood its ground when it rejected the bid overturn the ban earlier this year. Vancouver city council has followed this suit last June, unanimously to ban the chemical, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US continues to assess pesticide safety for bees and other pollinators and also implementing measures such as proper pesticide labeling.

The use of neonicotinoids can become persistent for several years and accumulated in the environment after repetitive applications and, therefore, cause concern for prolonged exposure (Table: 1). Moreover, the Harvard School of Public Health study team detected neonicotinoid residues in their food samples (imidacloprid was found in seven of eight apple samples, as well as in apples/applesauce/apple juice samples). The study points out that this widespread presence of the chemical in food that humans consume.

Detecting Pesticides in Food
Bans, prohibitions, and regulations need to be adhered, but how do you test that they are?

The answer — LC-MS/MS, with a Mass Spec solution from SCIEX pesticides can be screened, qualified, quantified and confirmed in a single injection. The main neonicotinoids imidacloprid, acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam, can all be efficiently analyzed with speed, accuracy, and confidence using the X500R QTOF System. The details of the method to perform this analysis can be found here in this helpful flyer, also from this flyer you can gain access to the High-Resolution Mass Spec library and even download a free XIC list to elevate your analysis.Download Your Copy >

Extra Reading
Chen, M., Tao, L., McLean, J., & Lu, C. Quantitative Analysis of Neonicotinoid Insecticide Residues in Foods: Implication for Dietary Exposures. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 62(26), 6082–6090, 2014 Jun 16; DOI: 10.1021/jf501397m 

Moffat, C., Buckland, S.T. Samson, A. McArthur, R. Chamosa Pino, V, Bollan. K. A, Huang, J. T.-J & Connolly, C. N. Neonicotinoids target distinct nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and neurons, leading to differential risks to bumblebees. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 24764, 2016 Apr 28; DOI: 10.1038/srep24764

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