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Pros and cons in the bee debate

Honeybees may be victims of widely used insecticides. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

Is a widely used pesticide to blame for making bees disappear? The debate over a class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids was the focus of a spot on NBC's "Nightly News" tonight, and NBC News' Anne Thompson has supplemented her TV report with a couple of Web-only videos presenting the pro and con arguments on neonicotinoids.

There's little question that pesticides play a role in the malady known as colony collapse disorder, in which whole colonies of honeybees leave their hives abruptly and never return. Most experts would say pesticides are among a host of bee-debilitating factors that also include viruses, mites and fungi. However, in recent months a number of studies have highlighted neonicotinoids as a particularly worrisome threat to bees.

So far, the Environmental Protection Agency has not acknowledged a link between colony collapse disorder and the reported problems with neonicotinoids. The chemicals are attractive to farmers, particularly for corn crops, because they are much more toxic to insects than they are to mammals. The stuff is sprayed on corn seeds as well as plants in the field.

One of the bonus videos is an interview with Steve Ellis, owner of the Old Mill Honey Company in Minnesota. "The quantity of neonicotinoid systemic insecticides that are being used in the country is mind-boggling," he says. Ellis is one of the backers of a petition campaign calling on the EPA to suspend further use of a type of neonicotinoid known as clothianidin.

In the other video, David Fischer, chief ecotoxicologist for Bayer CropScience, contends that neonicotinoids don't kill off bee colonies as long as they're used properly. He contends that in the studies linking the chemicals to colony collapse disorder, the bees were exposed to "unrealistically high levels" of the chemicals. Bayer CropScience markets clothianidin in brand-name pesticides that include Poncho and Prosper.

Watch the three videos, then feel free to weigh in with your vote and/or your comments.

Steve Ellis of the Old Mill Honey Company explains how pollinators are an essential piece of the fabric for feeding the United States and the loss of bees is posing an unprecedented threat.

David Fischer of Bayer CropScience claims that neonicotonoids, a relatively new class of insectoids, are not to blame for the recent collapses in bee colonies.

More about the bee debate:

Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Logcommunity by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.