(Beyond Pesticides, June 25, 2014) Following last week’s celebration of “National Pollinator Week” and a presidential memorandum mandating federal action on bees, the first wide-scale scientific analysis has been released that links two classes of pesticides to declining bee populations. Twenty-nine scientists representing many disciplines reviewed over 800 peer-reviewed publications on the impacts of systemic pesticides, and are recommending more restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides. This report is the single most comprehensive study of neonicotinoids ever undertaken.
The “Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA)” ”” undertaken by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides ”” documents significant harms to bees and ecosystems. While some aspects of this report have been broadly acknowledged before (e.g. risks to honey bees), some, including risks to earthworms, birds and aquatic invertebrates, have not. The analysis focuses not only on impacts to particular organisms and habitats, but also on biodiversity and ecosystem impacts, taking a holistic view of pesticide effects. The scientists are calling for new, dramatic restrictions on bee-harming pesticides in the United States and beyond. The report finds that the current regulatory system has failed to consider the full range of pesticide effects.
“This report should be a final wake up call for American regulators who have been slow to respond to the science,” said Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America. “The weight of the evidence showing harm to bees and other pollinators should move EPA to restrict neonicotinoids sooner than later. And the same regulatory loopholes that allowed these pesticides to be brought to the market in the first place ”” and remain on the shelf ”” need to be closed.”
“The science clearly shows that, not only are these systemic pesticides lethal to pollinators, but even low doses can disrupt critical brain functions and reduce their immunity to common pathogens,” said Nichelle Harriott, staff scientist at Beyond Pesticides.
The report will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research and is being released at events in Brussels, Manila, Montreal and Tokyo over the next couple days. It underscores that neonicotinoid pesticides and their breakdown products are persistent and harmful, even at very low levels. Neonicotinoids, like imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, acetamiprid, and dinotefuran, are widely used as a seed coating on agricultural crops, and in home and garden products applied to flowering plants and vegetables. Studies have found that bees are exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides through pollen and nectar, as well as via contaminated soil, dust, and water. They have also been shown to impair bees’ ability to learn, to find their way back to the hive, to collect food, to produce new queens, and to maintain a healthy immune system. Most recently, a Harvard School of Public Health study, published in the Bulletin of Insectology, shows two widely used neonicotinoids appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies over the winter, especially during colder winters. Read the report: No longer a Big Mystery.
In addition to bees, the report highlights the far-reaching impacts of neonicotinoids on entire ecosystems, from direct exposure to persistence in soil and water. Bumble bees, butterflies and other pollinators that serve both agriculture and provide ecosystem support services are also in jeopardy from these pesticides. In addition to neonicotinoids, the report also focuses on the insecticide fipronil, which is also linked to impacts on bees and has been targeted by European regulators for an additional ban.
According to the scientists, “The existing literature clearly shows that present day levels of pollution with neonicotinoids and fipronil caused by authorized uses, frequently exceed lowest observed adverse effect concentrations for a wide range of non-target species and are thus likely to have wide ranging negative biological and ecological impacts,” and suggest that regulatory agencies consider applying the principles of prevention and precaution to further tighten regulations on neonicotinoids and fipronil, and consider formulating plans for a substantial reduction of the global scale of use, and encourage the adoption of alternate agricultural strategies to manage pests.
“To save our invaluable pollinators, EPA, USDA and all Federal agencies must read this report and immediately implement regulatory remedies against the ongoing neonicotinoid disaster,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, senior scientist for Center for Food Safety. “We know from recent studies that neonicotinoid seed treatments are generally not improving yields or even keeping common pests at bay. They aren’t serving farmers and they certainly aren’t serving pollinators. It is time to address this common route of exposure.”
The neonicotinoids, imidacloprid (Bayer), then later clothianidin (Bayer), thiamethoxam (Syngenta) and dinotefuran first came into heavy use in the mid-2000s. At the same time, beekeepers started observing widespread cases of colony losses, leaving beekeepers unable to recoup their losses. This past year was another challenging one for farmers and beekeepers, with beekeepers reporting average losses of over 45%.
“The report lends credence to what beekeepers have been saying for several years,” said Jeff Anderson, beekeeper and owner of California-Minnesota Honey Farms. “Our country depends on bees for crop pollination and honey production. It’s high time regulators realize that applying toxins to plants makes them toxic to bees.”
Over the past few years, Beyond Pesticides, other advocacy groups, and beekeepers have filed legal petitions and lawsuits with EPA, calling on the agency to suspend the use of neonicotinoids. Yet, over two years later, the agency has refused and indicated it will not finish its review for clothianidin and thiamethoxam, as well as other neonicotinoids, until 2018. But according to advocates, bee deaths in Oregon last week from the use of a neonicotinoid and mounting scientific evidence require an urgent response that necessitates removing these chemicals from the market. Meanwhile, environmental regulators in Europe instituted a two-year moratorium on the chemicals last December based on the evidence from independent studies.
Last Friday, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum on pollinator health to the heads of federal agencies requiring action to “reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels.” The President is directing agencies to establish a Pollinator Health Task Force, and to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, including a Pollinator Research Action Plan. The memorandum recognizes the severe losses in the populations of the nation’s pollinators, including honey bees, wild bees, monarch butterflies, and others. In accordance with these losses and acknowledging the importance pollinators have to the agricultural economy. Read related article by the Washington Post.
Source: Press Release
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides