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Pesticide Residues In Honey and Other Foods

I've been thinking a lot about pesticides in foods and pesticides in honey since the recent post about untreated lawns and bees. Research finds that untreated lawns (no pesticides of any kind) with their diversity of flowering weeds or "spontaneous flowering plants" (such as clover and dandelions) are actually great pollen and nectar sources for bees. In other words, untreated lawns are great bee habitats! We think of conventional farms as using a lot of pesticides, but that is also true of suburbia with its obsession with "perfect lawns" and gardens, with no weeds allowed. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Up to ten times more pesticides per acre are used on suburban lawns than on conventional farms! Perhaps it's time to view clover and other "spontaneous flowering plants" as beneficial wildflowers providing food for bees, and not undesirable weeds that need eradicating with pesticides.

Thus these recent articles about pesticide residues in foods, including honey, caught my eye. Notice that conventional foods have pesticide residues, but not organic foods (or they may have much lower pesticide residues, typically due to contamination from neighboring farms). Honey is tricky - there may be pesticide residues because bees fly to pesticide contaminated areas, and also beekeepers may use pesticides for pest control when caring for their bees and bee hives. The most uncontaminated honey would be from organic beekeepers located in pristine areas, with no industry, farming, or treated lawns nearby, and who do not buy "wax starter comb". Bees forage for nectar and pollen within 2 miles from the bee hive, but may fly up to 7 miles from the bee hive. As an article in Scientific Reports pointed out: "Any agrochemical applied anywhere within a colony's extensive reach can end up back in the hive."

Note that no one knows what the long-term health effects are of ingesting foods daily with low levels of mixtures of pesticides (chronic exposure), and also of ingesting endocrine disruptors. A "cocktail effect" may occur from combined traces of different pesticides - the chemicals may be more toxic when combined than alone. We just don't know. The FDA just started testing for glyphosate residues (glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup) in 2016 - and this is the most heavily used pesticide in the world! Currently nearly 300 million pounds of glyphosate are applied each year on U.S. farms. Now add in all the other ways we're exposed to pesticides - both indoors and outdoors  lawns, gardens, farms), even on our treated pets. Something to think about.

A number of Kellogg and Nestle brand muesli cereals were among those tested in the following research. Muesli is a breakfast cereal of rolled oats, perhaps other grains, dried fruit, and nuts.  From France's English language newspaper The Connexion: Pesticides are found in mueslis

Pesticides have been found in all non-organic mueslis tested, with a study finding traces of chemicals including endocrine disruptors. The tests were carried out by food safety group association Générations Futures, which tested 20 types of muesli sold by major brands and supermarket own-brands.  Results revealed that on average, the 15 non-organic mueslis contained traces of nine pesticides, including endocrine disruptors (chemicals that interfere with the hormonal system) – and one sample had traces of 14 pesticides. On average, the contaminated samples had concentrations of pesticide 354 times that allowed in water. There were no traces of pesticides or endocrine disruptors in the five organic cereals tested.

From Huffington Post: FDA Finds Monsanto’s Weed Killer In U.S. Honey

The Food and Drug Administration, under public pressure to start testing samples of U.S. food for the presence of a pesticide that has been linked to cancer, has some early findings that are not so sweet. In examining honey samples from various locations in the United States, the FDA has found fresh evidence that residues of the weed killer called glyphosate can be pervasive - found even in a food that is not produced with the use of glyphosate. All of the samples the FDA tested in a recent examination contained glyphosate residues, and some of the honey showed residue levels double the limit allowed in the European Union, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. There is no legal tolerance level for glyphosate in honey in the United States.

Glyphosate, which is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s Roundup herbicide, is the most widely used weed killer in the world, and concerns about glyphosate residues in food spiked after the World Health Organization in 2015 said its cancer experts determined glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Other international scientists have raised concerns about how heavy use of glyphosate is impacting human health and the environment.

Even though the FDA annually examines foods for residues of many pesticides, it has skipped testing for glyphosate residues for decades. It was only in February of this year that the agency said it would start some glyphosate residues analysis. That came after many independent researchers started conducting their own testing and found glyphosate in an array of food products, including flour, cereal, and oatmeal. The government and Monsanto have maintained that any glyphosate residues in food would be minimal enough to be safe. But critics say without robust testing, glyphosate levels in food are not known. And they say that even trace amounts may be harmful because they are likely consumed so regularly in many foods.

In the records released by the FDA, one internal email describes trouble locating honey that doesn’t contain glyphosate: “It is difficult to find blank honey that does not contain residue.".....Sack said the EPA had been “made aware of the problem” and was expected to set tolerance levels for honey. Once tolerance levels are set by EPA - if they are set high enough - the residues would no longer be a violation.

Sioux Honey Vice President Bill Huser said glyphosate is commonly used on farm fields frequented by bees, and the pesticide travels back with the bees to the hives where the honey is produced....Beekeepers located in the South would have honeybees close to cotton and soybean fields. Alfalfa, soybeans and cotton are all genetically engineered to be sprayed directly with glyphosate.

Like the FDA, the USDA has dragged its feet on testing. Only one time, in 2011, has the USDA tested for glyphosate residues despite the fact that the agency does widespread testing for residues of other less-used pesticides. In what the USDA called a “special project” the agency tested 300 soybean samples for glyphosate and found more than 90 percent - 271 of the samples - carried the weed killer residues. The agency said then that further testing for glyphosate was “not a high priority” because glyphosate is considered so safe. It also said that while residues levels in some samples came close to the very high levels of glyphosate “tolerance” established by EPA, they did not exceed those levels.

Not only do pesticides get into the honey, but exposure to multiple pesticides is linked to bee deaths. From High number of pesticides within colonies linked to honey bee deaths

Honey bee colonies in the United States have been dying at high rates for over a decade, and agricultural pesticides—including fungicides, herbicides and insecticides—are often implicated as major culprits.....A new study is the first to systematically assess multiple pesticides that accumulate within bee colonies. The researchers found that the number of different pesticides within a colony—regardless of dose—closely correlates with colony death. The results also suggest that some fungicides, often regarded as safe for bees, correlate with high rates of colony deaths. The study appeared online September 15, 2016, in the journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers followed 91 honey bee colonies, owned by three different migratory commercial beekeepers, for an entire agricultural season....A total of 93 different pesticide compounds found their way into the colonies over the course of the season, accumulating in the wax, in processed pollen known as bee bread and in the bodies of nurse bees

2 thoughts on “Pesticide Residues In Honey and Other Foods

  1. joe urbauer

    Hello, I live in the heart of Las Vegas NV and have a very strong hive now for a year. We recently harvested the top honey super and was amazed of how productive the hive has been, however before I start passing out any of this 3.5 gallons, I would like to put my mind at ease. (Being in the heart of an artificial city)
    Can you test for pesticides and other pollutants?
    Can you refer me to someone who can?
    Thank You for your time.
    joe Urbauer

    1. Sima

      Yes, honey can be tested for hundreds of pesticides (pesticide residues). I don't know of a good lab, but the researchers of the pesticide residue study may know of a good, reputable lab for you to contact. The first author gives his email as the person to contact ().
      I see that they used a US Department of Agriculture lab - perhaps they would do testing? How about contacting your state's beekeeper's association or a college or university in your state? Good luck!


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