(Beyond Pesticides, November 26, 2014) Last week, over 100 scientists from diverse disciplines released a letter citing the growing body of scientific evidence that neonicotinoids and other systemic pesticides harm bees, and called on leaders of President Barack Obamaâs Pollinator Health Task Force to quickly take action on pesticides to protect and promote healthy populations of bees and other pollinators.
The letter was submitted in response to the recent âlistening sessionsâ hosted by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These sessions were held by the agencies toÂ collect publicÂ feedbackÂ on federal efforts on pollinator protection, and the Task Force convened to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy. In June, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies toÂ join theÂ Pollinator Health Task Force, led by USDA, to develop pollinator health solutions.
The 108 scientists âwhose areas of expertise include entomology, agronomy, ecology, ecotoxicologyâ called on Task Force co-chairs, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, to place a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in the U.S., and increase investment, research and funding for growers to adopt alternatives. In the letter, the scientists note that, âWhile gaps do exist in knowledge around neonicotinoids, regulation with an eye to prevention of harm, precaution with regards to neonicotinoids, and commitment to safe and sustainable alternatives may well help to stem the tide of pollinator losses.â
âBees have been quietly pollinating our crops for millennia, but now they need our help. It is vitally important that we take steps to reduce exposure of bees and other wildlife to these systemic, persistent neurotoxins,â said Dave Goulson, PhD, a bee expert and biology professor at the University of Sussex and a leader of the International Union for the Conservation of Natureâs (IUCN) global Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.
Almost a year after Europe successfully implemented a moratorium on neonicotinoids, federal policymakers in the U.S. have yet to take any substantive action. Bee declines across the country have continued at unprecedented rates â over 30% annually â with significant ramifications for beekeepersâ livelihoods, crops that rely on pollination and the agricultural economy. Unfortunately, EPA will not make a safety finding for clothianidin and thiamethoxam, as well as other neonicotinoids, before 2018.
âThe Presidentâs Task Force should listen to the body of science that links pesticides to bee harm and bee declines,â said Jim Frazier, PhD, an emeritus entomology professor at Pennsylvania State University and commercial beekeeper advisor who specializes in chemical ecology. âThese systemic pesticides are not only lethal to pollinators, but at low doses can disrupt critical brain functions and reduce their immunity â leaving them susceptible to common pathogens. The weight of the scientific evidence certainly incriminates neonicotinoids, in line with the 2013 European Food Safety Agencyâs review of 800-plus publications that led to the current moratorium on certain neonicotinoids.â
Recently in Canada, a group of doctors and nurses also urged their government to ban neonicotinoid pesticides. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and the Registered Nursesâ Association of Ontario say that these pesticides are a âmajor threat to both nature and people,â and have begun an advertising campaign to highlight the plight of pollinators and the potential risks to people.
The IUCNâs June 2014 âWorldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA)â â a review of over 800 studies by 29 independent researchers â documents significant harms to bees and ecosystems from neonicotinoids. Similarly, the scientists submitting the letter echo others around the globe in calling for new, dramatic restrictions on bee-harming pesticides in the U.S. and beyond. They suggest that the current regulatory system has failed to capture the range of impacts of these pesticide products: âThriving populations of beneficial insects result in a healthier and more resilient crop as well as benefiting the larger ecosystem. Practices that encourage wild pollinator diversity are therefore likely to increase crop yields and support the agricultural economy.â
As more studies link pesticides to bee harm and declines, more studies show that neonicotinoid seed treatments are not efficacious in farming or promoting pollination. In a study released in October, EPA notes, âPublished data indicate that in most cases there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment.â
Along with a lack of efficacy in farming, beekeepers are adamant that pesticides do play a major role in bee losses. At the recent listening sessions, many beekeepers voiced their dissatisfaction at the slow pace ofÂ U.S. action on pollinator protection and industry misrepresentation of the crisis facing bees. While industry stakeholders, like Syngenta and Bayer, attempt to deflect blame away from their products and focus on the prevalence of varroa mites, improved farming technologies, and best management practices, beekeepers insist that pesticide exposures, especially to neonicotinoids, are to blame for massive hive losses.
Neonicotinoids are a widely used class of systemic insecticides that are absorbed by plants and transported throughout the plantâs vascular tissue, including nectar and pollen, making the plant toxic to insects. They are commonly used in commodity agriculture as seed treatments, and also as foliar and granular treatments in nurseries. Neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam and dinotefuran, first came into heavy use in the mid-2000s. These chemicals have been shown, even at low levels, to impair foraging, navigational, and learning behavior in bees, as well as suppress their immune system to the point of increasing their susceptibility to pathogens and disease. Despite a two-year neonicotinoidÂ moratorium in the European Union and calls for similar action from beekeepers and environmentalists, the U.S. has refused to stop neonicotinoid use.
For more information, visit the BEE protective page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: PAN press release
Photo Source: Gary T