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Neonicotinoid Pesticides Lack Benefits, Studies Find

(Beyond Pesticides, March 27, 2014) – A report released by Center for Food Safety (CFS) this week refutes claims that a dangerous class of insecticides, neonicotinoids, bring greater benefits than costs to farmers. In the report, Heavy Costs: Weighing the Value of Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Agriculture, researchers analyzed independent, peer-reviewed, scientific literature to answer the simple question: Are neonicotinoid insecticidal seed treatment products beneficial or not?

Neonicotinoids, the pesticides in question, are a class of systemic insecticides. Despite numerous studies linking these insecticides with bee kills, colony collapse, and weakened pollinator immune systems, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to operate under an alarmingly slow pesticide registration review process, one that extends to 2018 and will most likely fail to appropriately apply the appropriate standard of review for pesticide registration. Under that standard of review, EPA should not approve a pesticide that poses unreasonable risks to “man or the environment,” taking into account economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits.  Unfortunately, economic costs and benefits usually become the sole factor.

Because of EPA’s failure to appropriately weigh these costs and benefits, honey bees and other pollinators have been bearing the brunt of the costs without recognition of the benefits they provide. For example, honey bees are responsible for producing one in every three bites of food eaten, but research increasingly shows they are being severely harmed by the indiscriminate use of neonicotinoids, both alone and in combination with other pesticides.

The CFS report authors set out to weigh these benefits and costs as they should be considered. The answer: No, neonicotinoids are not beneficial. And especially not when you consider the severe impact of these dangerous insecticides on pollinator populations necessary for the very crop production they allegedly are supposed to improve.

To get to this conclusion, CFS summarized 19 articles from scientific journals that studied the relationship between neonicotinoid treatments and actual yields of major U.S. crops: canola, corn, dry beans, soybeans, and wheat. Researchers at CFS also examined reports on crop yield impacts from other countries that had withdrawn approval of neonicotinoids because of the significant losses to pollinator populations.

The scientific literature examined in the report, while not as robust as researchers would have preferred, supported one or more categories of findings:

  • Crops treated with neonicotinoids don’t provide yield benefits.
  • Crops treated with neonicotinoids provide inconsistent yield benefits.
  • Using neonicotinoids frequently does not provide an economic benefit to farmers compared to alternative control methods or application patterns.
  • Neonicotinoids are unreliable and sporadic in their effectiveness.

Not stopping there, CFS then went on to examine reports produced from countries like France and Italy that have looked at crop yields from both a before and after perspective, because of bans on certain neonicotinoids established as far back as 1999. Based on data from longer term bans, authorities from these countries found no evidence of harms to productivity or economic harm. Similarly, scientific review of international crop yield impacts and treatment costs as compared to alternative control methods and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) treatment methods in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and North America found costs to be lower with IPM treatment methods and crop yields static or minimally improved.

Together these reviews and findings led to the conclusion that the benefits of prophylactic neonicotinoid use, as done with the majority of crops through indiscriminate and unrequested seed coatings, were nearly non-existent.

Concerning the costs, the report found that any minor benefits if they did exist disappeared because of the significant impacts to farmers, bee cultivators, and an extended range of pollinator populations. Specifically, the noted categories of losses identified in the report included, honey bee colony impacts, reduced crop pollination by honey bees, reduced production of honey and other bee products, loss of ecosystem services, and market damage from contamination events.  All of these losses carried both heavy economic losses and environmental losses.

In the end, the results of the report led the authors to a clear recommendation: EPA must take action to suspend all existing registrations of neonicotinoid seed treatment products whose costs and benefits have not been adequately weighed.

BEE Protective

Through its BEE Protective campaign, Beyond Pesticides has long advocated for EPA action to cancel pesticide registrations for neonicotinoids and conduct extensive health safety evaluations that take into account the real costs and benefits these insecticides bring with their use.

Beyond Pesticides and Center for Food Safety launched the BEE Protective campaign, a national public education effort supporting local action aimed at protecting honey bees and other pollinators from pesticides and contaminated landscapes. BEE Protective includes a variety of educational materials to help encourage municipalities, campuses, and individual homeowners to adopt policies and practices that protect bees and other pollinators from harmful pesticide applications and create pesticide-free refuges for these beneficial organisms. In addition to scientific and regulatory information, BEE Protective also includes a model community pollinator resolution and a pollinator protection pledge. Pollinators are a vital part of our environment and a barometer for healthy ecosystems. Let’s all do our part to BEE Protective of these critical species. Please visit Beyond Pesticides’ Bee Protective webpage to learn more about our efforts to save pollinators and what you can do to help.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Center for Food Safety


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