Skip to main content

The Honeybee Debate: Home

A webquest by Mrs. Catlin and Mrs. Cyr

The Honey Bee Debate

The Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, has been the focus of recent controversy because of the effects of a systemic agricultural insecticide resembling nicotine, called neonicotinoids. Recent studies have found a link between neonicotinoids and declining bee populations.

Recent headlines have sounded the alarm all too clearly. Bees are dying in the tens of millions. Beekeepers have lost their entire hive stocks when nearby fields were sprayed with this insecticide.  There have been record-breaking losses of bees that have been recorded in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union and around the world.  In China, 40,000 workers must hand-pollinate crops using feather dusters because there are no bees left. 

Have we not already learned from the effects of DDT on the food web and biologic magnification?  Why is it that this insecticide is banned from use in Europe?

On the other hand, let’s look at the big picture, does the manufacturing of insecticides contribute to the local economy?  Do people need these jobs in our country?  Is the plight of the honey bee more important than American workers? Could there be other factors contributing to the decline of the honey bee?

What do we value?  Is the price of progress worth the cost to the environment?

George Santayana is famous for saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


Databases are a great place to explore scholarly journals and other authoritative sources.  The following databases have a focus on science and the environment.  The Business Insights database can help you find company data if needed. You can search for articles yourself, or use the articles that have preselected for you.

"A Dangerous Cycle in Food Production" NYTimes, Oct.20, 2015.

"Beekeeping Basics."  Mother Earth News. June-July 2015.

"Bees Can't Avoid Neonictinoids."  Science News. May 16, 2015.

"Quest for a Super Bee." National Geographic. May 2015. 

"Honeybee."  Issues and Controversies. n.d. 

"The Death of the Honeybee is a Series Matter, but a Sweeping Pesticide Ban May Actually Make Things Worse."
An editorial/opinion piece from Maclean's. July 14, 2014.

"The Plight of the Honey Bee."  National Geographic. May 10, 2013.


Websites and Studies

Are Neonictinoids Killing Bees?
A study from the Department of Entomology at Pennsylvania State University and Xerces Society.

Cornell University: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Search their website for the latest on agricultural practices in NYS, including use of pesticides such as neonicotinoids.

"Death of Bees" by David Gutierrez. Report of the Canadian beekeepers lawsuit against pesticide manufacturors. 

New York State Organic Farming.
From the State of New York, an organic farming information center.

"The Role of Agriculture in the NY State Economy."
From the Office of the Comptroller, New York State Government.


Google Web Search

Quick Video Overview of Honey Bee and its Plight.

The Plight of the Honey Bees

Independent Work:
Introductory research- You will be getting an overview of honey bees, neonicotinoids and agriculture in NY State. Take notes using the notes catchers provided.

Group Work:
Each person will be assigned a role below to gain a clear understanding of the different issues and agencies that are involved in the task.


  • Farmer
  • Representatives from NYS
  • Bee Keepers
  • Bayer Company CEO
  • Environmentalist working for The Honeybee Conservancy

Group Process

  1. You will be assigned a group and your group will be assigned a role from above.
  2. Visit the web resources available on this site to research your role. Use the note catcher provided.  Prepare to present your perspective at a roundtable debate.  Remember: you may not personally agree with the opinion of the role you been assigned, but you must take on that role and argue from their perspective.  This could be difficult, but do your best!

Task, Essential Question and Targets

Task, Essential Question and Targets
: Research the plight of the honey bee and its connection to  Bayer Company’s production of neonicotinoids.

Essential Question:  What should policy be regarding the habitat of the honey bee?

Learning Targets:  I can evaluate sources. I can form an argument and counter arguments based on synthesized research.

Note Catchers: Use these three note catchers to help you gather information that will provide you with an overview of the topic and prepare you for your role in the debate.