Tell EPA Bees Can't Wait—Neonic Pesticides Too Toxic

I like bees and other pollinators. Every morning I enjoy a soy milk latte from my bee mug.

I also like farmers and yummy farm-grown foods that are made from bee-pollinated crops and wildflowers that are pollinated by honeybees and wild bees.

That’s why I care about two very important new scientific studies—one from Europe and one from Canada—that add a few more nails to the coffin of evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) are contributing to bee deaths. Both studies were published in Science magazine, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world.

The studies have received lots of attention—and rightly so!

The European study (Woodcock et al 2017) made the following important findings:

  • Real-world exposures to neonics (clothianidin and thiamethoxam) as seed treatments has adverse impacts on bumble bees and solitary bees;
  • Adverse effects were also reported for honeybees, but results were less consistent across regions suggesting a complex set of factors at work;
  • Residues of imidacloprid, a neonic pesticide not used in the fields in this study, were present in bee nests, supporting concerns that its persistence in soil and water leads to widespread environmental contamination from previous uses.

The Canadian study (Tsvetkov et al, 2017) added startling information that neonic pesticides may interact with other agrochemicals typically used by farmers, especially fungicides, to make them even more harmful to bees. These data are consistent with previous reports from semi-field studies (Gill et al 2012).

The European study (Woodcock et al 2017), is the largest field study of the impacts of neonic pesticides on bees published to date, and was partly funded by the world’s largest neonic manufacturing companies, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience.

The study captured global attention because it tested field-realistic exposure to bees in their natural habitat (farmers following their normal seeding practices), thus providing an important real-world link to the evidence from laboratory studies that have reported on harm to bees under more controlled conditions. Three species of bees (honeybees, bumble bees, cavity nesting solitary bees) were exposed to neonic pesticide (clothianidin or thiamethoxam) from its use as a seed treatment for canola (rape seed) in 33 sites across three countries (U.K., Germany, and Hungary).

The observation that honeybees may be less vulnerable to pesticide poisoning than bumble and other wild bees was also reported in an earlier field study in Sweden (Rundolf et al, 2015), lending further evidence to the concern that wild bees – which are not well tracked or counted—may be suffering even larger colony losses than the honeybees for which we have more information. In other words, what we don’t know may be more harmful.

The findings of these two new studies are consistent with previous reports, and therefore provide additional confirmatory information to support previous conclusions that neonic pesticides harm bees in the wild, and are likely to be a contributing factor to widespread bee deaths.

Neonic manufacturing behemoths Syngenta and Bayer CropScience are furiously denying that their profitable pesticide products are killing bees. They were quoted in Bloomberg News as follows:

“Good beekeeping practices and planting wild flower margins could mean that the impact of neonicotinoids "can be minimal or in some cases even positive,’ Syngenta said in a statement. Bayer pointed to inconsistent results in different countries, adding that colony deaths in the U.K. were too high to support scientifically robust conclusions. ‘Bayer remains convinced that neonicotinoid seed treatments for oilseed rape have no short- or long-term negative effects on bees and that these seed treatments are a useful and effective tool for farmers,’ it said.”

This is the tired old climate-denial argument being trotted out—manufacture doubt and call for more study. Polluters always seem to have patience to await the next study, as long as they can conduct business as usual in the meantime.

But, can the bees afford to wait? I doubt it.

Tell EPA Administrator Pruitt and the Trump White House that the bees are out of time! EPA is taking public comments until July 24th on the neonic pesticides, so you can let them know that you stand up for bees here:

Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumble bee, on my garden bee balm
Jen Sass

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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