Renewing a fight that began five years ago, two environmental groups have sued the EPA to force it to regulate pesticide-coated seeds in the name of protecting bees and other pollinators. Seeds coated with neonicotinoid insecticides are used on 80 percent of corn land and 40 percent of soybean land, although researchers question their value against late-emerging crop pests.
Scores of studies have established that neonicotinoids, the most widely used pesticides in the world, are contributing to the steady decline of bees and other insects across North America and Europe. Now evidence is growing that these compounds, tailored to take out invertebrates, can also harm mammals, birds, and fish, as Elizabeth Royte explains in FERN's latest story, published with National Geographic.(No paywall)
The Protect America’s Children From Toxic Pesticides Act of 2020, introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, and Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat of Colorado, would overhaul the nation’s framework for regulating the sale and use of pesticides to safeguard public health and …
The member nations of the EU voted for a near-total ban of neonicotinoid insecticides, over the objections of farmers and pesticide manufacturers. Known as neonics, the chemicals are the most widely used class of insecticides in the world and have been linked by scientific studies to the decline in honeybees and other pollinators, said BBC News.
Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey found neonicotinoid insecticides in 74 percent of the water samples they analyzed from 10 major tributaries of the Great Lakes. The insecticides were "detected in every month sampled and five of the six target neonicotinoids were detected." Environmental Health News says the study "suggests the Great Lakes' fish, birds and entire ecosystems might be at risk" from the insecticides that are believed to be a factor in high mortality rates of honeybees.
Research by the University of Saskatchewan provides “the first direct evidence that neonicotinoids can harm songbirds and their migration,” said the Guardian, by causing the birds to lose weight and their sense of direction.
Seventy-five percent of honey samples taken from around the world contained traces of neonicotinoids — a class of insecticides harmful to honeybees, says a study published in the journal Science.
Beekeepers lost one-third of their colonies in the year ending in March, down 6 percent from the previous year and the lowest loss rate since 2011-12, when less than 29 percent of colonies were lost, says the Bee Informed Partnership of university researchers. Assistant entomology professor Dennis vanEngelsdorp, of the University of Maryland, said the decline in losses was encouraging but added, "It's hard to imagine any other agricultural sector being able to stay in business with such consistently high losses."
A U.S. district judge in California ruled that the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act when it issued 59 registrations from 2007-12 that allow use of neonicotinoid insecticides in agricultural, landscaping and ornamental uses. District Judge Maxine Chesney issued a mixed verdict that upheld some the issues raised by beekeepers and environmental groups but denied others.
A petition filed with EPA calls for the agency to treat seeds coated with neonicotinoid insecticides as a pesticide, ending an exemption for the seeds. The petition was backed by three national beekeeper associations, worried the insecticides are a factor in population declines of honeybees.
Cornell University says its researchers found that honeybees, used to pollinate orchard and fruit crops, "encounter danger due to lingering and wandering pesticides, according to an analysis of the bee's own food," called beebread and made form pollen. In the study, based on 120 colonies placed near 30 apple orchards in New York State, the beebread in 17 percent of the colonies showed the presence of acutely high levels of pesticide exposure after several days of foraging by the bees while apple trees were in flower.
The European Commission is considering draft regulations to ban the mostly widely used insecticides in fields across Europe in order to protect bees, according to documents obtained by The Guardian via the Pesticide Action Network Europe. A vote is expected this May; if passed the ban could take effect within months.
As part of a pollinator plan announced last fall, the Minnesota Agriculture Department sought regulatory authority over seeds coated with neonicotinoids, blamed by some environmentalists for the decline in bee populations. Committees in the state House and Senate rejected the proposal, says Minnesota Public Radio.
The Obama administration has granted endangered-species protection to the rusty-patched bumblebee — the first bumblebee in the United States, and the first bee of any kind in the lower 48 states to get the designation, says The New York Times. Seven other bees are listed, but they are all from Hawaii.
General Mills is teaming up with the Xerces Society, a wildlife conservation nonprofit, to help save pollinators, says The Guardian. The food manufacturer, which has contributed $4 million to other pollinator conservation projects since 2011,says it will give $2 million to the Xerces-led program to make 100,000 acres of North American farmland pollinator-friendly over the next five years.
U.S. district judge William Alsup said he is sympathetic to the plight of bees and beekeepers but he cannot force the EPA to regulate neonicotinoid seed coatings as a pesticide. The environmental group Center for Food Safety, which represented the plaintiffs, said the decision was "a crushing blow" to attempts to control the side effects of the coatings.
Pesticide manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer appear to have secreted away studies that showed their pesticides did serious harm to honeybees, rather than revealing the results to the public. After Greenpeace obtained the studies from the EPA through the Freedom of Information Act, scientists are calling on the two companies to operate with more transparency, says The Guardian.
Queen honeybees fed syrup laced with the pesticide imidacloprid laid significantly fewer eggs—between a third and two-thirds as many—than unexposed bees, according to a report in EurekAlert on a new study published in the journal Science Reports.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order limiting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to a demonstrated need by farmers to prevent economic losses to their crops, says Minnesota Public Radio. The pesticides are believed to be a factor in steep declines in bee populations, along with parasites, disease, poor nutrition and bad weather.