A new generation of chemicals, Neonicotinoids, have been associated with a decline in bird, bee, and other ecologically important insect populations. Why is this significant? As a society we are starting to wake up, we can no longer remain complacent about the dangers of chemicals in our products and in our environment. If we do not learn from the lessons of our past we will ignorantly dismiss the ecological red flags that are indicators of illness and disease among human, animal, fish, and insect populations. Remember DDT? In 1972, DDT was banned for agricultural use in the United States as it had been shown to cause cancer and it was a threat to wildlife, particularly birds. A worldwide ban on its agricultural use was later formalized under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. By 1991 total bans on the use of DDT, including pest control, were in place in at least 26 countries including the US.
Neonicotinoids, are the world’s most widely used insecticides and are deadly to insects at a tiny dose of a few parts per trillion. Accounting for one-third of all insecticides used globally, the neonicotinoid market was worth $2.63 billion in 2009 and is on the rise. Neonicontionids offer a solution to avoid widespread spraying of crops because the main method of delivering this pesticide is through coating the plant seeds. However, Neonicotinoids are known as systemic pesticides because they affect all tissues and cells of a plant including its roots, stalks, seeds, leaves, pollen and nectar. Neonicotinoids persist in the soil and get washed into ponds where ecologically important insects live and where birds collect their food. These creatures are demonstrating high levels of toxicity and the long-term ecological effects are unknown.
A determined group of biologists and eco-toxicologist are using science to alert industry leaders about the potential dangers of the use of this chemical. The findings, although not conclusive, are indicative of the need for further research into the death of bird, bee and other insect populations. Scientists are concerned about the pesticides’ presence in water and how this may be affecting the creatures that depend on the water. There has been a significant decline in birds in Europe and North America and certain birds like barn swallows have declined by 70 to 80 percent in the past few decades. Barn Swallows and other birds collect insects from the water and eat them and many of these birds nest in areas where pesticides are common.
Once again, the US is lagging behind other countries with taking the precautionary measure to ban the pesticide even though they agree with the scientific conclusion about the effect on bees. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to complete its review of neonicotinoids in 2016 or 2017. Last year, the European Commission banned neonics on some crops for two years because they believe the chemicals are poisoning bees. Ontario, Canada is considering reducing or eliminating them because honey producers filed a $360-million class action lawsuit against the two main manufacturers.
SLN’s Take Home Message
Ecologists know that the death of so many birds, bees and other ecologically important insects may have widespread effects on whole ecosystems, especially bee populations. There is no such thing as a local ecology, and the use of this pesticide may effect our global ecosystem. Continue to follow this issue by reading the scientific literature and advocate for further investigation of the health and ecological effects of Neonicotinoids. Subscribe to Environmental Health News (EHN), which is an independent, foundation-funded news organization that reports and publishes news stories on environmental topics and provides daily access to news from other worldwide media. Buy organic foods and products and support local organic farmers.
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