Ecosystem Threatened by ‘Gross Underestimate’ of Toxicity of Neonicotinoids
Research has shown that many pesticides are neurotoxic and can cause disruptions to your neurological system and your brain. The reason why neurotoxins still enjoy widespread use on our food supply is really more about the bottom line for farming operations than it is about the science of human health.
Research has clearly and consistently linked pesticide exposure to Parkinson’s disease. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also considers 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic.
All of these toxic chemicals are permitted on farms growing conventional and genetically engineered crops, and a large number of them can end up on your plate when you purchase conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables and/or processed foods.
But pesticides also have a dramatic impact on the health of our ecosystem. Neonicotinoids, such as Imidacloprid and Clothianidin, kill insects by attacking their nervous systems. These are known to get into pollen and nectar, and can damage beneficial insects such as bees.
These toxic chemicals have been implicated as one of the primary culprits in the mass die-offs of bees, and have subsequently been banned in some countries. The United States, however, is not among these countries...
But the effects of neonicotinoids do not end there. According to recent research by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the use of neonicotinoids in seed treatments is also responsible for the death of birds, terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates and other wildlife.
EPA Accused of Failing to Adequately Assess Environmental Risks
Nicotine-related compounds called nicotinoids were initially introduced as a new form of pesticide in the 1990s, as widespread pest resistance rendered many older pesticides useless. Many seeds are now “pre-treated” with neonicotinoids, which are water-soluble and break down slowly in the environment.
Today, they are the most widely-used pesticides in the world. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pesticide that does not contain at least one neonicotinoid insecticide. In California alone, there are nearly 300 registered neonicotinoid products available.
The American Bird Conservancy (ABC), one of the leading bird conservation organizations in the US, is now calling for a ban on the use of neonicotinoids as seed treatments, and wants all pending applications for neonicotinoid products to be suspended pending an independent review of the products’ effects on birds, terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife.
As reported by the American Bird Conservancy1:
“It is clear that these chemicals have the potential to affect entire food chains. The environmental persistence of the neonicotinoids, their propensity for runoff and for groundwater infiltration, and their cumulative and largely irreversible mode of action in invertebrates raise significant environmental concerns...”
ABC commissioned the world renowned environmental toxicologist Dr. Pierre Mineau to conduct the research, which resulted in a 100-page report2 titled The Impact of the Nation’s Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds. Mineau’s report reviews 200 studies on neonicotinoids, including industry research obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act.
The report concludes that neonicotinoids “are lethal to birds and to the aquatic systems on which they depend.” Even more disturbing, contamination levels in both surface and ground water around the world are already beyond the threshold found to kill many aquatic invertebrates. According to this shocking toxicology assessment:A single kernel of corn treated with this type of pesticide can kill a songbird A single grain of wheat or canola treated with the neonicotinoids Imidacloprid can be fatal to a bird As little as 1/10th of a neonicotinoid-coated corn seed per day during egg-laying season can affect a bird’s reproductive capability
Link Between Neonicotinoids and Bee Die-Off is ‘Crystal Clear,’ Lawsuit Maintains
Disturbingly, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not adequately assessed the toxicity of neonicotinoids. Part of the problem, according to the featured report, is that the EPA is “using scientifically unsound, outdated methodology that has more to do with a game of chance than with a rigorous scientific process.” This has led the agency to grossly underestimate the toxicity of these chemicals. Furthermore3:
“The report also charges that there is no readily available biomarker for neonicotinoids as there is for cholinesterase inhibitors such as the organophosphorous pesticides. ‘It is astonishing that EPA would allow a pesticide to be used in hundreds of products without ever requiring the registrant to develop the tools needed to diagnose poisoned wildlife. It would be relatively simple to create a binding assay for the neural receptor which is affected by this class of insecticides,’ said Dr. Mineau.”
Dr. Mineau urges the EPA to require pesticide registrants to also provide the diagnostic tools necessary to diagnose cases of wildlife poisonings. So far, neonicotinoids have garnered the most attention and criticism for their role in bee die-offs—a worldwide phenomenon that took off once these newer pesticides became widely used. As stated by ABC4:
“The serious risk to bees should not be understated, as one-third of the US diet depends on these insect pollinators. The ABC assessment makes clear, however, that the potential environmental impacts of neonicotinoids go well beyond bees.”
A general consensus among beekeepers is that the bee die-offs are most definitely related to toxic chemicals, and neonicotinoids in particular. The disappearance of bee colonies began accelerating in the United States shortly after the EPA allowed these new insecticides on the market in the mid-2000s. In May, beekeepers and environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the agency over its failure to protect bees from these toxic pesticides.
Meanwhile, France has banned Imidacloprid for use on corn and sunflowers after reporting large losses of bees after exposure to it. They also rejected Bayer´s application for Clothianidin, and other countries, such as Italy, have banned certain neonicotinoids as well.
Neonicotinoids are used on most of American crops, especially corn. As mentioned earlier, these chemicals are typically applied to seeds before planting, allowing the pesticide to be taken up through the plant’s vascular system as it grows. As a result, the chemical is expressed in the pollen and nectar of the plant, and hence the danger to bees and other pollinating insects... Needless to say, since the chemical is taken up systemically through the plant, it could also pose potential health risks to anyone eating the plant since it cannot be rinsed off.
Neonicotinoids affect insects' central nervous systems in ways that are cumulative and irreversible. Even minute amounts can have profound effects over time. One of the observed effects of these insecticides is weakening of the bee's immune system. Forager bees bring pesticide-laden pollen back to the hive, where it's consumed by all of the bees. Six months later, their immune systems fail, and they fall prey to secondary, seemingly "natural" bee infections, such as parasites, mites, viruses, fungi and bacteria.
The EPA5 acknowledges that “pesticide poisoning” may be one factor leading to colony collapse disorder, yet they have been slow to act to protect bees from this threat. The current lawsuit may help spur them toward more urgent action, which is desperately needed as the food supply hangs in the balance.
In March, the EPA sent Jim Jones, overseer of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, to talk to California almond growers and beekeepers, as mass die-offs of bees were seriously threatening this year’s almond crop. But although beekeepers said Jones got the message that bees are in serious trouble, they were dismayed by the fact that he seemed more interested in finding new places for bees to forage rather than addressing the issue of toxic pesticides...
As usual, at the core of the problem is big industry, which is blinded by greed and enabled by a corrupt governmental system that permits the profit-driven sacrifice of our environment. Unfortunately, this motivation reflects an extreme shortsightedness about the long-term survival of the human race, as well as of our planet. Clearly, if the goal of pesticides is to increase food yield to more easily feed 7 billion human beings, this goal falls flat on its face if it leads to the collapse of our food chain.