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As Bees Vanish, Critics Build a Case Against Neonics

In reference to the causal factor or factors of honeybee colony collapse disorder (CCD) some beekeepers feel the jury is still out, but a growing number of veteran, highly-qualified beekeepers are convinced that this recent surge in CCD events is directly correlated to the concurrent rapidly-growing usage of a new class of systemic, neuro-toxic insecticides known as “neonicotinoids.” As more beekeepers and researchers seek and find what they feel are answers and causal proof, the government regulatory agencies have been very slow to respond to their concerns, as is noted in an article, Hives of Controversy, by Tracy Frisch in the January, 2016, issue of Acres magazine.

“According to the federal government, the cause of this devastation remains a mystery,” says Frisch. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) both say no single cause of colony collapse disorder has been identified. The agencies have suggested a host of factors—such as parasites and diseases, malnutrition and stress—may be at play. Researchers operating on government grants and in state and federal institutions are investigating various influences on honeybee health and looking for clues to the decline of wild bee species as well, but their findings have been inconclusive and contradictory.”

However, Frisch is quick to say, “Other scientists have amassed a great deal of evidence implicating a chemical culprit. They contend that a relatively new class of insecticides called neonicotinoids is behind colony collapse disorder. The chronic sub-lethal effects of these chemicals, they say, are weakening the insects and destroying their social organism. Regulators in Europe and in Canada’s most populous province have supported this conclusion. In the United States, many distraught beekeepers have become convinced that neonicotinoids are behind their losses, and they have joined forces with some large environmental groups to push for changes.”

Frisch notes, “Chemical companies invented neonicotinoids as an improvement over nicotine, a botanical poison from tobacco that become obsolete for pest control. One benefit of the new synthetic compounds is their relative safety to people and other mammals at time of application. And unlike nicotine, they don’t degrade quickly, so they retain their value as pesticides for much longer. On the downside, however, these new chlorinated compounds may persist in the soil for years and are slow to break down in water as well.

“Neonicotinoids differ from most insecticides in that they are systemic,” Frisch continues, “When a plant is grown from neonicotinoid-treated seed, the insecticide is translocated to all its tissues. The plants themselves become toxic to the insect pests that try to feed on them, and the insecticides don’t wash off because they’re internal. When bees drink nectar and collect pollen from treated crops—or from dandelions or other weeds they visit near treated areas or even in subsequent years—they pick up small amounts of neonicotinoids. Another route of exposure is the fluid some plants, like corn, exude through their leaves to eliminate excess moisture. When bees drink the guttation fluid from neonicotinoid-treated crops, it can kill them.”

The widespread use of these insecticides on farms is further compounded by their even more extensive use by homeowners, landscapers, nurserymen and others in the horticultural industry as well as state and local government agencies. Frisch says, “A neonicotinoid called imidacloprid is now the top-selling insecticide in the United States, and this overall class of insecticides may be the most widely-used type globally—even though the use of some of the chemicals has been restricted in Europe. In the United States, hundreds of millions of acres of commodity crops are grown from seed coated with neonicotinoids, including almost all conventional corn and most soybeans, sunflowers, wheat and canola.

“In addition, the ornamental and vegetable plants sold in big-box stores frequently have been pre-treated with neonicotinoids,” he adds, “When Friends of the Earth sampled bee-friendly flowering plants sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart in 18 cities across North America, the group found more than half had been pre-treated with neonicotinoids and contained residue levels that could harm bees.”

So what can we do to help reduce the use of these pesticides and help protect our declining populations of pollinator insects? We can all work with environmental groups to fight for tighter controls on such dangerous pesticides. We can refuse to buy plants pre-treated with neonics, and make our complaints known to store management. But the best method to insure pesticide-free plants is to grow your own from untreated seeds. Seeds ‘n Such sells no treated seeds and no genetically-engineered seeds, and we are ready to help you establish your pollinator habitat.

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