Bees are our friends. Sure, they’ve been prominent villains in bad movies such as The Swarm. And yes, some of us (like me) are deathly allergic to them. But let’s face it: Bees do us a big favor by pollinating plants, which allows us to enjoy those little luxuries in life such as food.

Alas, the little black and gold insects are threatened. It appears they are being killed off by a type of pesticide called neonicotinoids. (Notice a familiar, cigarette-related word there? Yes, neonicotinoids are based on nicotine.) Made by corporate giant Bayer and sold under brand names such as Clothianidin and Imidacloprid, these pesticides are used on crops of soybeans and corn.

According to the New York Times, these pesticides “permeate all of the plants’ systems,” leading to bees and other pollinating insects absorbing the poison and carrying it back to their hives or nests. This is bad news for the bees. The Environmental Protection Agency knows it, but hasn’t done anything about it yet.

In December, a memo (pdf) leaked from the EPA admits that these pesticides are a “major risk concern” for honey bees, and that the science behind the studies that led to Clothianidin’s approval was sketchy.

Dr. Jeffrey Pettis, research leader at the USDA’s government bee lab, has demonstrated that the insects’ vulnerability to infection is increased by the presence of these sorts of pesticides, even at the most microscopic doses. As reported in The Independent, “Dr. Pettis and his team found that increased disease infection happened even when the levels of the insecticide were so tiny that they could not subsequently be detected in the bees, although the researchers knew that they had been dosed with it.”

When pesticide is brought back to the hive, it may contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. How widespread is CCD? According to The Independent, between “20 and 40 percent of American hives have been affected, and CCD has since been observed in several other countries from France to Taiwan.”

To prevent further decimation of bee hives, bans on neonicotinoids have been enacted in France, Italy, and Slovenia. Ironically, these pesticides are also banned in Germany, home of Bayer, the very company reaping huge profits selling them.

Alas, neonicotinoids are widely used in the United States, and our bee populations are paying the price.

While the Environmental Protection Agency has been slow to address the problems, there are signs this is changing, and the agency may be willing to take action. The Pesticide Action Network North America is encouraging the EPA to act now to save America’s bees.

On May 5, 2011, PANNA will deliver the petition urging the EPA to protect bees from pesticides. Add your name to the campaign to help bees before it’s too late.

Photo Credit: chacallot