Imagine a teeny, tiny grain of bee pollen. It’s one of nature’s most nourishing foods, containing nearly every nutrient humans need. Too bad that bee pollen is likely contaminated with a cocktail of at least 17 poisonous pesticides, according to an extensive Greenpeace Research Laboratories Technical Report of pesticides in bee-collected pollen.

From locations in seven European countries, researchers took 25 samples of comb pollen stored over winter from the 2012 foraging season. Subsequently, 107 samples of trapped pollen from the 2013 foraging season were obtained from locations in 12 European countries and analyzed at an accredited laboratory. All told, 53 different chemicals were detected.

The results indicated the widespread use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos (in 18 samples) and thiacloprid (14 samples), as well as the fungicide boscalid (14 samples), which were the most commonly detected residues in trapped bee pollen samples.

What is even more dangerous is that these fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides synergize and become even more dangerous. Neonicotinoids and systemic fungicides, for instance, are often combined as pest control inputs, and synergize the already high bee toxicity of neonicotinoids.

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Put in simple terms, bees and other pollinators – both natural and managed – seem to be declining globally, particularly in North America and Europe. And the mounting evidence against pesticide use is undeniable and reveals that these pesticides have detrimental effects on bees and beings, as well as other pollinators.

“This is yet more proof that there is something fundamentally wrong in the current agricultural model which is based on the intensive use of toxic pesticides, large-scale monocultures and corporate control of farming by a few companies like Bayer, Syngenta, and Monsanto, among others; it shows the need for a fundamental shift toward ecological farming,” says Matthias Wüthrich, Greenpeace ecological farming campaigner and European bees-project leader.

Meanwhile, we are eating this tainted food. At what cost?

These poisons, popular in the United States, are ingested in small doses, which makes them insidious and hard to nail down.

Many factors – such as the destruction of natural habitats, stress, mites, and viruses – threaten honeybees. But poisons and the monocultures that embrace them are at the core of the problem as they compromise the honeybee’s immune system.

The harsh reality is that pollinators, managed or wild, have a hard time avoiding chemicals. Isn’t it remarkable that bees actually do better in cities than they do in the countryside?

This is the case in Paris, for instance.

“Destructive practices that limit bee-nesting ability, and the spraying of herbicides and pesticides, make industrial agriculture one of the major threats to pollinator communities globally,” adds the report.

Honeybees are crucial to our existence as they pollinate about one-third of our crops. Their demise means that up to 75 percent of our crops will suffer some decrease in productivity. Honeybees pollinate everything from avocados to zucchinis, and the crops they pollinate also provide food in meat and dairy production (if you are eating organic).

To mark the release of the report and protest against the chemical industry’s role in bee decline, more than 20 activists unfurled a giant banner outside the headquarters of Bayer in Germany. The banner read “Bayer: STOP KILLING US!”

Although Europe has restrictions in place regarding the use of pesticides, Greenpeace wants to extend the scope of these restrictions so that pesticides such as clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and fipronil are banned completely. They are also encouraging the research and development of non-chemical alternatives for pest management along with the widespread implementation of ecological farming practices on the ground.

Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.

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