Bee Thankful This Thanksgiving: Demand Big Food Stop Killing Our Pollinators
Apples, cranberries, squash, sweet potatoes, beans—these are just a few Thanksgiving table favorites, all of which rely on bees for pollination.
And it’s not just honey bees we have to thank for this fruitful service. There are also roughly 4,000 species of native bees in the U.S., such as bumblebees, carpenter bees, alkali bees and squash bees, that serve a critical role in our food supply.
Unfortunately, bees and other pollinators are suffering at the expense of our industrial food system. The loss of habitat and nutritious forage thanks to vast expansions of monocultures like corn and soy is seriously jeopardizing the health and populations of pollinators.
This is worsened by the compounding use of toxic herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, which are building up in our environment, poisoning floral landscapes and contaminating our aquatic ecosystems.
One type of pesticide that’s particularly toxic to bees is a group of nicotine-based insecticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. Neonics are the most widely used insecticides in the world and are systemic chemicals—meaning they are absorbed into all parts of the plant tissue, making the entire plant toxic.
Honey bees and other pollinators are then exposed to these toxic chemicals through pollen, nectar, dust, dew droplets on plant leaves and in the soil where many native bee species nest.
While the harmful impacts of neonics to honey bee populations have been documented in many studies, the unique risks to native bees are less understood. But a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found pesticide residues, most commonly neonics, in 70 percent of the native bees they tested foraging on or near U.S. farmland, adding to the mounting pile of evidence that neonics are indeed devastating to thousands of species of bees.
By hurting our bees, we are also hurting our food supply. A new study published in Nature last week found that bees exposed to neonics pollinated apple trees far less effectively than bees not exposed to these neurotoxic insecticides. As a result of impaired pollination services, the apple trees visited by the poisoned bees produced apples with fewer seeds—leading to lower overall yields.
But there are other ways that yields can be negatively impacted by neonics too. A study published a few years ago by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers found that neonics indirectly harm the crops they are supposed to protect by killing off beneficial insects that help control crop pests. Just last year, a similar study showed that neonic seed coatings resulted in lower crop productivity with soybeans because it killed off protective insects that kept pests like slugs at bay.
These chemicals are bad for bees, bad for farmers and bad for our agricultural economy, but up until recently, we weren’t sure just how bad they are for consumers. Now, a new study from public health researchers in Japan exposes for the first time evidence of illness in real people as a result of consumption of neonicotinoid residues.
From 2006 to 2014, Japanese doctors documented varying symptoms reported by hundreds of rural Japanese people: patients suffering from recent memory loss, finger tremors and combined symptoms of headache, general fatigue, palpitation/chest pain, abdominal pain, muscle pain and cough. Public health researchers later associated these symptoms with exposure to agricultural neonicotinoid insecticides, used on fresh fruits, tea, rice and a host of other food crops and further testing confirmed that the degree of symptoms correlated with the amount of neonicotinoid consumption.
The costs of neonicotinoids clearly outweigh the benefits and there is no excuse for allowing these dangerous chemicals to remain on the market. The state of pollinator health is an indication of our environment’s health—and right now, bees are the canary in the coal mine, sounding the alarm for an unhealthy situation with even bigger problems ahead.
This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to not only give thanks for the incredible services that bees provide, but to also help us take action to protect them. You can start by joining Center for Food Safety in urging the White House to greatly improve their national strategy for protecting pollinators.
Want more ways to show your gratitude for bees? Here are a few suggestions:
- Stop using pesticides in your own backyard, especially systemic insecticides such as neonicotinoids.
- In the spring, plant pollinator-friendly flowers. If you buy pollinator-friendly plant starters, make sure they have not been pre-treated with neonicotinoids—it’s more common than you think.
- Create nesting sites. Wild bees need safe habitats and you can create some of your own using wooden blocks or bamboo bundles. Check out this guide from the Xerces Society for examples.
- Demand that food companies stop using neonicotinoids. We’re calling on the popcorn companies to stop growing their products with seeds coated in these bee-toxic chemicals. So far, Weaver Popcorn Company has committed to phase out uses of neonicotinoids, but we need more companies to follow in their footsteps.
- Support organic. Choosing organic food isn’t just healthier for you than eating food grown with toxic, synthetic agrochemicals—it’s healthier for pollinators and the environment. By choosing organic foods, you help protect pollinators, other wildlife and entire ecosystems. Many organic brands support pollinator protection efforts and are working to reverse the damage that chemically intensive industrial agriculture is doing to the environment.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
JasonOndreicka / iStock / Getty Images
Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
- Climate Crisis: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Traditions ... ›
- 10 Organizations Honoring Native People on Thanksgiving ... ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.