Study Shows Bee-Killing Neonicotinoid Seed Treatments Offer ‘Little to No Benefit’
Center for Food Safety released a scientific literature review which reveals that neonicotinoid insecticide seed treatments offer little benefit, do not increase crop yields and cause widespread environmental and economic damage. In particular, neonicotinoids have been implicated in bee population declines and colony collapse. While some fear that crop yields will suffer without the use of neonicotinoids, the study demonstrates that their benefits do not outweigh the costs.
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The authors examined 19 peer-reviewed studies of the relationship between neonicotinoid treatments and actual yields of major U.S. crops. Eight studies found that neonicotinoid treatments did not provide any significant yield benefit, while 11 studies showed inconsistent benefits. The studies corroborate evidence from European countries that were able to maintain crop yields even after neonicotinoid bans. The review cites the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failure to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis and calls on the EPA to suspend seed treatment product registrations.
“The environmental and economic costs of pesticide seed treatments are well-known. What we learned in our thorough analysis of the peer-reviewed science is that their claimed crop yield benefit is largely illusory, making their costs all the more tragic,” said Peter Jenkins, co-author of the report and consulting attorney for Center for Food Safety.
Seeds of commercial crops in the U.S., particularly corn and soybeans, are widely treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, ostensibly to protect emerging seedlings from pests and thus improve yields. Almost all of the corn seed and approximately half of the soybeans in the U.S. are treated with neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species and are considered a major factor in colony collapse. Neonicotinoid pesticides are also slow to break down, so they can build up in areas where they are applied. They contaminate surface water, ground water and soil, endangering not only pollinators, but also other beneficial species that inhabit these ecosystems.
Pesticide seed treatments are regulated by the EPA under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which directs the agency to evaluate whether the use of any pesticide proposed for registration presents “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits.”
“Their impact on honey bees, other pollinators and on the nation’s beekeepers is especially troubling. Because the available scientific studies show little if any benefit, EPA should suspend all neonicotinoid seed treatment product registrations as required under FIFRA until the costs and benefits are adequately reviewed,” said Jenkins.
“Although there is no doubt that neonicotinoids are highly toxic to insects, this does not mean they are routinely effective in pest management. In many contexts they provide no benefit, and in others they are not a cost-effective option. The bottom line is these toxic insecticides are being unnecessarily applied to seeds in most cases, while harming pollinators and the environment,” said Sarah Stevens, researcher and co-author of the report.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 10 million bee hives have been lost since 2006, representing a $2 billion cost to beekeepers. Honey bees are responsible for much of the pollination required for agricultural production. USDA estimates pollinator services to be worth $20-30 billion annually. Further, honey and bee products have also suffered with 2013 the lowest U.S. honey production ever recorded. That was a $38 million drop since 2012. The most significantly decline in honeybee production has occurred in the Corn Belt where neonicotinoid use is highest.
“The economic costs of neonicotinoid seed treatments are real,” added Stevens. “In addition to paying for unnecessary treatments, the overuse of these pesticides has led to significant costs to society at large.”
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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