Bee crisis gets renewed attention as evidence of pesticide harm mounts

By Ken Roseboro
Published: July 26, 2014
Category: Negative Impacts of Industrial Agriculture

Bee on flower

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Did the First Family notice a surprising lack of bees and butterflies going after the flowers in the White House garden? Did the recent meta-analysis of 800 studies confirming harm to bees from pesticides add to the buzz? Growing evidence of the negative impact of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids on bees, birds, butterflies and other pollinators is leading to lawsuits, restrictions and bans. Consumers have pressured large retail outlets like Home Depot and Lowe’s to label and/or remove items treated with the pesticides—as many as 51 percent of “bee friendly” seeds and plants.

“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 with Beyond Pesticides.

President Obama released a memorandum in June creating a Pollinator Health Task Force to help protect and restore these creatures essential to one-third of our food supply. Honey bee colony populations have dropped from 6 billion in 1947 to just 2.5 million today; Monarch butterfly migration numbers are dwindling dramatically.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, have been linked to impaired learning, food collection, navigation, immune function, and reduced egg-laying. Organisms that create healthy soils (e.g., worms) are also affected. Often applied to seeds, neonics are taken up by all parts of the plant, including roots, leaves, pollen and nectar, creating many avenues of exposure. Almost zero toxicity assessments have been done.

“We are a witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT,” wrote Jean-Marc Bonmatin, an author of the study.

The EU has implemented a two-year moratorium on neonics.

Three environmental groups in California have sued the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, hoping to halt the use of three pesticides approved in June.

Meanwhile, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced last week it was going to phase out neonics in Pacific Northwest refuges.

(Sources: NRDC Switchboard; Ecologist; The New York Times;; CBC News; TakePart)

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