An international panel of independent scientists has issued a warning about two widely-used pesticides and declared them as dangerous to the environment as DDT. Specifically, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides is pushing for the elimination of neonicotinoids and fipronil, pesticides linked to the wide-spread death of bee populations around the world.
The scientists conducted a meta-analysis comprising 800 peer-reviewed reports and concluded that these pesticides, in addition to being a key factor in declining bee populations, are also causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species, such as earthworms. Neonicotinoids (commonly known as neonics) attack the central nervous system of insects, paralyzing and eventually killing them. It can collect on plants and accumulate in pollen, which makes it deadly to numerous beneficial pollinators. Fipronil, a lesser known but widely-used insecticide, can be not only in agricultural areas but on gold courses and in residential applications as well. Studies have shown that this chemical cocktail affects bees’ capacity to learn and behave like healthy bees. Its danger is not limited to bees as other species, including humans, are at risk from its toxicity.
The report, known as the Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA), will be published in the peer-reviewed Journal Environment Science and Pollution Research. According to Doctor Jean-Marc Bonmatin of The National Centre for Scientific Research in France and one of the lead authors of the study, neonicotinoids are not only killing bees, they are failing in their promise to support greater agricultural production. “The evidence is very clear,” says Bonmatin. “We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT.”
Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT as it is commonly known, was commonly used as a pesticide throughout the 1960s and early 1970s until it was banned in 1972 to protect wildlife and people from its toxic effects. Bonmatin and his colleagues’ study revealed that some neonicotinoids used today are 5000 to 10,000 times more toxic than DDT. Bonmatin concludes that, “Far from protecting food production, the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.”
As much as humans like to think they are above nature and can apply technology to overcome any degradation they cause, humans cannot manage a healthy food system without nature’s pollinators. According to Professor Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, one of the report authors, approximately 75 percent of the crops we eat are pollinated by insects. If we kill them off, according to Goulson, “we won‘t have most of the fruits that we like to eat, most of the vegetables that we like to eat. We‘d be eating porridge, rice, bread — not much else. Life would be awful.“
Martin Bijleveld van Lexmond, Chair of the Task Force, reaffirmed the urgent need to ban these and other toxic, persistent chemicals from use in the environment. According to Bijleveld van Lexmond, “We can now clearly see that neonics and fipronil pose a risk to ecosystem functioning and services which go far beyond concerns around one species and which really must warrant government and regulatory attention.”
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