The decade-long debate over the safety of neonicotinoid (“neonics”) may be coming to an end. New developments from around the world demonstrate that these pesticides are not only a threat to bees, but also to the ecosystem.
Due to the severe negative impact on the ecosystems in which neonic pesticides are used, Bayer CropScience has been under continual attack from the public and environmentalists alike. This class of pesticides has been linked to the high mortality among bees, which are an essential link in the world’s food supply.
The European Union banned three neonicotinoids linked to bee-friendly flowering plants last year despite fierce lobbying from the chemical industry and opposition from eight of the 27 member nations. Four additional nations abstained from the vote that resulted in a two-year ban on the neonic pesticides known as imidacloprid and clothianidin (manufactured by Germany’s Bayer), as well as thiamethoxam, manufactured by the Swiss company, Syngenta.
Neither the United States nor Canada has banned the products, claiming more research is needed. Around the same time that the European Union was implementing its ban, Canada’s federal health agency, Health Canada, tested dead bees and found neonicotinoid on 70 percent of the corpses. The government issued a statement in September 2013 that, “Current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable due to their impacts on bees and other pollinators” yet the regulators have done nothing to ban them.
Bayer CropScience tweaked its product formulation and claimed its composition and application would greatly reduce the exposures perceived as a threat to bees. Tests by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture determined that the dust created by the insecticides was still endangering pollinators. University of Quebec scientist Madeleine Chagnon reveals that bees that have not come into contact with the dust created by neonicotinoid application still show bio-markers identifying contact with the insecticides. In other words, the exposure came after pesticide application, perhaps while the bees were collecting pollen from mature plants. In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Chagnon states, “They’re taking in something that they will ultimately die from, and they’re taking this into the hive and feeding on it all winter, then we wonder why we have winter mortality.”
In the U.S., a Harvard University researcher teamed up with beekeepers in Massachusetts to study “colony collapse disorder (CCD),” the name given to the increasingly common phenomenon of dying bee communities. The results of the study, published in the Bulletin of Insectology, showed that “sub-lethal exposure of neonicotinoids, imidacloprid or clothianidin, affected the winterization of healthy colonies that subsequently leads to CCD.”
Other researchers, including those at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believe other factors are linked to the alarming decline in bee populations. These include the parasitic Varroa mite that attacks honey bees, as well as other environmental stressors. However, dangerous amounts of neonicotinoids are being found in soil as well as ground and surface water. Researchers have determined that sub-lethal loads of the insecticides can impair the bees’ ability to find food and collect pollen, as well as increase their risk to pathogens and reduce the fertility and production of the queen.
Neonicotinoids that don’t kill bees immediately are likely to poison them to the point that the difference between lethal and sub-lethal exposure becomes moot. These chemicals persist in water and soil, building up in concentrations that will ultimately be dangerous for multiple species in the ecosystem. Collaboration with chemical manufacturers on revised versions of neonicotinoids is not a solution. A poison is a poison regardless of quantity and application. The time for a total ban is now.
Beecharmers.org compiled a list of common chemical and brand names of neonic pesticides, which include: Actara, Platinum, Helix, Cruiser, Adage, Meridian, Centric, Flagship, Poncho, Titan, Clutch, Belay, Arena, Confidor, Merit, Admire, Ledgend, Pravado, Encore, Goucho, Premise, Assail, Intruder, Adjust and Calypso.
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