(Beyond Pesticides, June 4, 2012) France’s Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll announced plans on Friday to cancel Swiss manufacturer Syngenta’s registration to treat canola seed with the neonicotinoid insecticide thiamethoxam, a chemical cousin of the bee-killing pesticide clothianidin, in a move to protect honey bees from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). When honey bees are exposed to thiamethoxam, it breaks down in their bodies to, clothianidin, which Beyond Pesticides is petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban due to a preponderance of adverse effects data and inadequate registration safety testing. Both pesticides have been shown in numerous scientific studies to play a key role in CCD. As France acts to protect its pollinators from pesticides, the U.S. continues to allow the uses of theses highly toxic chemicals to continue. Tell Congress and EPA that the U.S. should join France in taking a precautionary approach to our pollinator crisis.
The chemical manufacturer Syngenta has two weeks to report its own evidence before the ban officially goes into effect. If enacted, France’s Agriculture Ministry stated that the ban will take effect before the start of canola sowing season in late summer. Minister Le Foll reinforced the fact that farmers do not need to rely on this product to protect their crop. “To protect rapeseed [canola] plants, there exist alternatives to coating seeds that are already widely used. If the withdrawal of the authorization (for Cruiser OSR) is confirmed, farmers will therefore have solutions to call on,” Minister Le Foll explained.
The decision to ban the coating of canola seeds with thiamethoxam, commercially labeled Cruiser OSR, is based on a late March study in the journal Science, entitled “A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees.” In their study, the researchers used Radio-frequency identification (RFID) to test the hypothesis that a sub-lethal exposure to a neonicotinoid indirectly increases hive death rate through homing failure in foraging honey bees. When exposed to sub-lethal doses of thiamethoxam, at levels present in the environment, honey bees are less likely to return to the hive after foraging than control bees that were tracked with RFID, but not intentionally dosed with pesticides. Higher risks are observed when the homing task is more challenging. The survival rate is even lower when exposed bees are placed in foraging areas with which they are less familiar.
The legal petition in the U.S., crafted in collaboration with environmental groups and beekeepers around the county, points to the fact that EPA has failed to follow its own regulations. EPA granted a conditional, or temporary, registration to clothianidin in 2003 without a required field study establishing that the pesticide would have no “unreasonable adverse effects” on pollinators. Granting conditional registration was contingent upon the subsequent submission of an acceptable field study, but this requirement has not been met. EPA continues to allow the use of clothianidin nine years after acknowledging that it had an insufficient legal basis for initially allowing its use. Additionally, the product labels on pesticides containing clothianidin are inadequate to prevent excessive damage to non-target organisms, which is a second violation of the requirements for using a pesticide and further warrants removing all such mislabeled pesticides from use.
A British study, published in the journal Science at the same time as the French study, “Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production,” examines the impacts of another neonicotiniod pesticide imidacloprid on bumble bee colony health. Researchers exposed colonies of the bumble bees to levels of imidacloprid that are realistic in the natural environment, and then allowed them to develop naturally under field conditions. Treated colonies had a significantly reduced growth rate and suffered an 85% reduction in production of new queens compared to unexposed control colonies. The study is particularly noteworthy because it shows that bumble bees, which are wild pollinators, are suffering similar impacts of pesticide exposure to “managed” honey bees.
A third recent study in published by Harvard University’s School of Public Health in the June 2012 Bulletin of Insectology reinforces the link between the neonicotinoid imidacloprid and CCD even at sub-lethal doses. The Harvard study provides an in situ look into CCD by performing the experiment in the field following normal commercial beekeeping practices. Researchers looked at the effect of feeding High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) to honey bees, a common practice during the winter months. Results show that 94% of the hives had died after exposure to imidacloprid, at levels hypothesized to have been present in HFCS since the introduction of neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids are taken up by a plant’s vascular system and expressed through pollen, nectar and gutation droplets from which bees then forage and drink. Several EU countries, including Germany, France, Italy and Slovenia, have put restrictions on the use of these toxic substances. beyond Pesticides and other groups are calling on the U.S. to do the same.
Learn more at Beyond Pesticides’ Pollinator Protection webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.