Quantcast

It’s Time to Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides

Insights + Opinion
iStock

The Canadian government is banning plastic microbeads in toiletries. Although designed to clean us, they're polluting the environment, putting the health of fish, wildlife and people at risk. Manufacturers and consumers ushered plastic microbeads into the marketplace, but when we learned of their dangers, we moved to phase them out.

Why, then, is it taking so long to phase out the world's most widely used insecticides, neonicotinoids? Scientists have proven they're harming not only the pests they're designed to kill, but also a long list of non-target species, including pollinators we rely on globally for about one-third of food crops.


Neonics are systemic pesticides. Plants absorb and integrate them into all tissues—roots, stems, leaves, flowers, pollen and nectar. First introduced in the 1990s, they now account for one-third of the global pesticide market. Agricultural applications include leaf sprays, and seed and soil treatments. They're also used for trees, turf products and flea and tick treatments for pets.

We've known about neonics' harmful impacts on pollinators and ecosystems for years, but this summer, two major scientific releases added significantly to the ever-growing body of research proving widespread use of these toxic chemicals must stop.

On Sept. 18, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides—an international group of independent scientists convened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature—released an update to its 2015 Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impact of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems. The 2017 update takes into account more than 500 additional peer-reviewed studies, revealing broader impacts and reinforcing the 2015 conclusions that neonics represent a major worldwide threat to biodiversity, ecosystems and the services nature provides.

On Oct. 6, task force scientist Edward Mitchell and an interdisciplinary team from the University of Neuchâtel and the Botanical Garden in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, published a study in Science, which found three-quarters of the honey produced throughout the world contains neonics. Although concentrations were below the maximum authorized for human consumption, they surpassed levels proven to affect bees' behavior, physiology and reproductive abilities.

Conducted in 2015 and 2016, the study analyzed 198 honey samples from around the world, searching for the five most common neonics: acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Seventy-five percent contained at least one, with proportions varying considerably by region. The highest levels were in North America (86 percent), Asia (80 percent) and Europe (79 percent), with the lowest in South America (57 percent).

Thirty percent of all samples contained a single neonicotinoid, 45 percent contained between two and five and 10 percent contained four or five. Regulators don't tend to consider the "cocktail effects" of contamination by multiple neonics. The impacts on bees, humans and other organisms are still undiscovered, but I bet they won't be good.

These new findings restate the need to stop all mass-scale systemic pesticide use. Maintaining the status quo means continuing environmentally unsustainable agricultural practices. After all, the latest science also shows that in many cases, neonics provide little or no real benefit to agricultural production. Instead, they decrease soil quality, hurt biodiversity and contaminate water, air and food. They can't even be relied on to decrease farmers' financial risk or assist significantly with crop yields.

What are governments doing with this information?

In 2013, the European Union imposed a moratorium on certain uses of three neonics on bee-attractive crops: imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. The EU is now considering extending the moratorium. Meanwhile, the new French biodiversity law aims to ban all neonics starting in September 2018. North American regulators, meanwhile, have failed to recognize the urgent need to prevent neonics from further contaminating the environment.

Health Canada's Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency; has proposed phasing out one neonic, imidacloprid, but not until 2021 at the earliest—possibly as late as 2023. While industry continues to lobby Ottawa to continue using the toxic chemicals, environmental groups are calling for faster phase-out plans and an end to neonic use.

If we care about the quality and security of our food sources—and the species and ecosystems they rely on—the time for neonics is over. Sustainable and affordable agricultural and pest management practices exist. It's time to ban bee-killing pesticides.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Micromobility is the future of transportation in cities, but cities and investors need to plan ahead to avoid challenges. Jonny Kennaugh / Unsplash

By Carlo Ratti, Ida Auken

On the window of a bike shop in Copenhagen, a sign reads: Your next car is a bike.

Read More Show Less
An American flag waves in the wind at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, California on May 17 where a trial against Monsanto took place. Alva and Alberta Pilliod, were awarded more than $2 billion in damages in their lawsuit against Monsanto, though the judge in the case lowered the damage award to $87 million. JOSH EDELSON / AFP / Getty Images

By Carey Gillam

For the last five years, Chris Stevick has helped his wife Elaine in her battle against a vicious type of cancer that the couple believes was caused by Elaine's repeated use of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide around a California property the couple owned. Now the roles are reversed as Elaine must help Chris face his own cancer.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Butterfly habitats have fallen 77 percent in the last 50 years. Pixabay / Pexels

The last 50 years have been brutal for wildlife. Animals have lost their habitats and seen their numbers plummet. Now a new report from a British conservation group warns that habitat destruction and increased pesticide use has on a trajectory for an "insect apocalypse," which will have dire consequences for humans and all life on Earth, as The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less
Six of the nineteen wind turbines which were installed on Frodsham Marsh, near the coal-powered Fiddler's Ferry power station, in Helsby, England on Feb. 7, 2017.

Sales of electric cars are surging and the world is generating more and more power from renewable sources, but it is not enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to stop the global climate crisis, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Read More Show Less
"Globally, we're starting to see examples of retailers moving away from plastics and throwaway packaging, but not at the urgency and scale needed to address this crisis." Greenpeace

By Jake Johnson

A Greenpeace report released Tuesday uses a hypothetical "Smart Supermarket" that has done away with environmentally damaging single-use plastics to outline a possible future in which the world's oceans and communities are free of bags, bottles, packaging and other harmful plastic pollutants.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Children are forced to wear masks due to the toxic smoke from peat land fires in Indonesia. Aulia Erlangga / CIFOR

By Irene Banos Ruiz

Pediatricians in New Delhi, India, say children's lungs are no longer pink, but black.

Our warming planet is already impacting the health of the world's children and will shape the future of an entire generation if we fail to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F), the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report on health and climate change shows.

Read More Show Less
Private homes surround a 20 inch gas liquids pipeline which is part of the Mariner East II project on Oct. 5, 2017 in Marchwood, Penn. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

The FBI is looking into how the state of Pennsylvania granted permits for a controversial natural gas pipeline as part of a corruption investigation, the AP reports.

Read More Show Less
Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles. Carolina Wild Ones / Facebook

Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less