Getting Closer to a Fix for Neonics

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Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the sudden death of bee colonies, has huge implications for the growers of our food and public health in general. The cause, until recently has been a deep mystery. Now CCD researchers are finding more and more evidence pointing towards a class of pesticides—neonicotinoids or “neonics”—as at least part of the problem.

In a brilliant photo essay posted on Earth Justice, Chris Jordan-Bloch follows commercial beekeepers, discussing their experiences with CCD, its history, and the link with neonics. For instance, he tells the story of Bill Anderson:

Anderson has been beekeeping since 1976 and has never experienced the level of loss as he’s seen in recent years. Last winter, he lost 67 percent of his colonies. His typical winter colony loss prior to 2005 was about 6 percent.”

As Jordan-Bloch notes, neonics were approved for application on seed corn in 2000. Typically the chemical is applied by seed suppliers to seeds prior to planting. Bill Anderson’s colony collapse in 2005 may be a case of “perfect timing” as the seeds reached the market en masse after about five years and neonic-treated corn covered enough acreage to do large scale damage. Many beekeepers are convinced by their own experiences that neonics are the culprit in CCD.

Luckily, Earth Justice is representing a national organization of beekeepers in a lawsuit against the EPA’s approval of a new class of neonics. The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) filed a petition demanding an EPA review of neonics this summer. EPA itself is beginning to question neonics amidst studies that have found evidence questioning their efficacy. Kristofor Husted of Harvest Public Media recently explained the agency’s inquiry and the backlash from the seed supply industry (think Cargill, Monsanto, Bayer—the big ones). On the one hand, the EPA, after performing a rigorous scientific study, found that there was no difference in yields (the ultimate measure of a commodity crop’s success) between neonic-treated and untreated seeds. On the other hand, industry-funded studies have found yield increase up to 3% due to the neonic application. Three percent is a big difference for farmers, who are caught in the middle of this scientific debate. Husted explains that until the science is settled, a farmer (who, we are careful not to “bash” as they are working with the tools that they have to make a living) is more likely to use neonics just to be on the safe side.

When it comes down to it, many growers use neonicotinoids as insurance. It helps them sleep at night thinking their crops are protected and there’s a smaller chance they’ll have to replant—which costs a hefty sum.”

Ultimately, it comes down to consumers like us, not the farmers or even the seed industry, to protect our bees. If you are interested in lending your voice to the cause, check out Friends of the Earth’s petition to EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, and/or NRDC’s similar petition.

image via Earthjustice

Sources:

   Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson  

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