When you think about animals vital to human survival, bees and their fellow pollinators are right at the top of the list. Without bees, crops don’t grow, and we don’t get to eat real food. For a few years now, researchers and gardeners alike have been wringing their hands over the mass disappearance of so many bees, known under the collective name Colony Collapse Disorder.
Several culprits were named, including cellphone towers and radio waves, while some organic gardeners quietly began to question the role of pesticides intended to kill harmful insects. Unfortunately, even though the makers of these products promised us they were safe, the evidence is rolling in like a tidal wave, and it’s really no longer possible to believe those assurances. The true killer is a product produced by Bayer Crop Science, called a neonicotinoid, which is a synthetic derivative of nicotine that works by attacking insects’ nervous systems. Tom Phillpot explains how in this Mother Jones article:
Neonicotinoids are what’s known as “systemic,” meaning they suffuse and “express” themselves in the whole plant when it germinates, including nectar and pollen. That’s precisely what makes them so effective at attacking pests—and, unfortunately, “nontarget” species like honeybees and other beneficial insects too.
Now here’s the truly scary news: It’s not just big industrial growers using these harmful products. They’re right in your own lawn and garden center, and quite possibly in your or your neighbor’s yard. Do any of these products look familiar?
Again, from Mother Jones:
Take a close look at the label, and you’ll find that its one active pesticide ingredient is imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid. “Apply granules to soil around base of plant, sprinkling evenlyin the area under branches,” the instructions state. How does the product work? Bayer provides a helpful explanation right on the label:
This product is absorbed by roots and moves through the entire plant. Even new growth is fed and protected against insects for up to 8 weeks. Rain or watering cannot wash off this internal protection!
That’s great news for your flower garden—and bad news for honeybees and other benign insects that your flowers might be beckoning with pollen and nectar.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, a new report out by the American Bird Conservancy indicates that these pesticides may not only be harming bees, but birds and some amphibious species. The synopsis states that “This report reviews the effects on avian species and concludes that neonicotinoids are lethal to birds as well as to the aquatic systems on which they depend.” You can read that report here (PDF) in it’s entirety.
Environmental Agencies in both the US and EU have been pressured by concerned organizations to ban these products, but have so far caved to industry pressure and not done so. According to HuffPo, in the EU, Syngenta and Bayer have proposed a “Bee Health Plan” to try and avoid government action. The plan consists of “the planting of more flowering margins around fields to provide bee habitats as well as monitoring to detect the neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for their decline and more research into the impact of parasites and viruses.”
Here in the US, according to NBC, a group of “four professional beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups… filed a lawsuit against the EPA in the Northern District Court of California, demanding that the regulatory agency suspend the use of pesticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam.”
“Beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups have demonstrated time and time again over the last several years that EPA needs to protect bees. The agency has refused, so we’ve been compelled to sue,” said Peter Jenkins, a lawyer for the Center for Food Safety who is representing the coalition of plaintiffs.”
If you’d like to make your voice heard, Care has a petition to the EPA over here. Talk to your local garden stores about the products mentioned above, or help educate your friends and neighbors about their potential dangers. Try your hand at natural pest control (more on that in a future post) and plant more pollinator friendly organic flowers like bee balm and butterfly bush.
The effects of these neonicotinoids is immediate, and irreversible. We need our bees and our pollinators for our very survival, so action must be takes as soon as possible to get these products out of our ecosystem.