Posted March 14, 2014
by Jerry Alatalo
“The study of nature is intercourse with the highest mind. You should never trifle with nature.”
– Louis Agassiz (1807-1873)
One third of the food humanity eats is directly dependent on pollinators like honey bees. In recent years beekeepers have become greatly concerned because of what has become known as “colony collapse disorder” (CCD), with large losses of honey bees due to previously undetermined reasons.
It has now become very clear that a new class of products called “systemic pesticides” are responsible for CCD as well as a variety of equally negative environmental consequences. Study of systemic pesticides goes to the heart of policies and rules of regulatory bodies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its process of registering (approving) products for public sale and use.
Systemic pesticides are a new type of pesticides taken up into the entire plant, and stay there for the life of the plant. Any insect, bird, animal, or human that eats any part of the plant then consumes the systemic pesticide. Companies that make systemic pesticides sell them by making claims about less costs for chemical inputs, one-time application (because the pesticide gets absorbed by plants), and less time spent by farmers in application.
But systemic pesticides are deadly to honey bees and all living things
Not only bees, but insects, birds which eat those insects, fish, frogs, and on and on. In essence, systemic pesticides are an extreme danger to all living things – including human beings. In addition, systemic pesticides are persistent (they stay on the soil, increasing with each application), and after killing all beneficial organisms in the soil, leave that soil essentially dead.
The types of systemic pesticides which have been identified as responsible for devastating honey bee die-offs are neonicotinoids. These were approved by the EPA in 2003 despite the fact that internal EPA memos admitted they were toxic to bees. EPA field tests became conducted by Bayer, the manufacturer of the systemic pesticide, in tests that years later the EPA, because of pushback from beekeepers and concerned scientists on the insufficiency of industry tests, admitted were not up to standards.
An odd and disturbing practice by the EPA is “conditional registration” where pesticides and other environmentally questionable products are being sold before long-term test results are known. Remember, the tests are most times conducted by the companies looking to register products. Bayer systemic pesticide clothianidan was already being sprayed in large quantities on corn and canola for 4 years before Bayer’s test said “clothianidan safe for bee populations”.
Independent tests later led one scientist to say, “nobody has any idea that it could be this large of a residue (clothianidan residue in bee samples) problem.” The biggest concerns of beekeepers and non-industry scientists is that EPA is not asking the kinds of questions it should be asking. The same highly questionable approval process of the EPA was present in 1996 when biotech/genetic modification companies like Monsanto conducted tests used by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when coming to approve genetically modified organisms – GMO.
The same song and dance practiced by Monsanto and other GMO companies is mirrored by companies that produce systemic pesticides. “There are now over 7 billion people on Earth…”, and “these products will help feed a hungry world…”, and “nobody has proved these to be harmful…”, and “we continue to test/research…”, blah, blah, blah.
Colorado beekeeper Tom Theobald has been a leader in the battle to ban neonicotinoids. He finally wrote an article that destroyed the EPA’s process of approval for clothianidin, fact-by-fact dismissing the approval because it relied on “a mockery of science”. Because of the publicity generated by the article, Mr. Theobald received a phone call from an EPA employee, who told him the EPA was reviewing the registration, after the pesticide has been sprayed on tens of millions of acres of crops for over eight years.
The EPA failed to take the pesticide off the market, and beekeeper groups sent letter after letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson with their concerns – strongly suggesting stoppage of the pesticide as a precautionary measure.
A former EPA scientist spoke to the problem: “The public perceives that because a pesticide is registered, it is safe. That is not true.” EPA scientists have always been frustrated with EPA’s “risk-benefit analysis” that accompanies every product companies attempt to get approved/registered. The analysis looks at a number of factors for every product: economical, technological, political, social, and scientific.
Ultimate decisions get made by administrators and not scientists who review the safety data – those scientists have no idea of the process administrators use to approve products. The EPA’s website suggests a historical pattern of not taking their scientists’ warnings seriously.
A completely different story in Europe
Europe has kept systemic pesticides off the market until long-term studies for safety are completed. France, Germany, and Italy have banned neonicotinoids and beekeepers in those countries have seen a remarkable, rapid turnaround in the number of honey bees. In the meantime, the EPA has “decided” that a warning label on systemic pesticides is “good enough”.
A retired EPA scientist sums up an extremely worrisome state of affairs at the Environmental Protection Agency: “EPA judged the risks to not be as important as the benefits, without the data needed to properly assess those risks. They are not considering the collapse of the entire food chain”.
Systemic pesticides/neonicotinoids are being sprayed on over 200,000,000 (200 million) acres of farmland, school grounds, golf courses, residential property/lawns etc. – all across America.
The health and very significant environmental risks are being severely underestimated.