Bee health is improving with the removal of Neonicotinoids from agriculture in the U.S. and worldwide. Neonicotinoids are based on nicotine, a natural insecticide produced by the tobacco plant. In addition to being a highly addictive neurostimulant in humans, nicotine is toxic to insects and pollinators like bees. Another reason to Stop Smoking!
Neonicotinoids are systemic insecticides that are devastating bee populations and threatening our nation’s food supply. Neonicotinoids act as an insect nerve agent. They are mostly used as a seed treatment, meaning the chemical pervades the plant, including the nectar and pollen on which bees feed. Neonicotinoids have been in use for more than a decade and are thought to be harmless to humans and other mammals.
Neonicotinoids were banned in the European Union two years ago. Fast-declining-populations of pollinators, including bees, have been identified as a serious risk to global food production. 90% of pollination is performed by wild bees, moths, hoverflies and other insects. Neonicotinoids have only ever been tested by regulators on honeybees, and these tests were only conducted for a few days to check for immediate lethal effects. The sub-lethal effects that could, for example, weaken bees’ defences against disease were never tested. Cocktails of pesticides used by farmers are not tested either. The ban on Neonicotinoids in France is not a total ban. Only three neonicotinoids will be suspended and only from flowering crops, on which bees feed. Neonicotinoids will still be used on winter crops, when bees are dormant, and in greenhouses.
2nd Largest Popcorn Supplier Commits to Phasing Out a Bee-Killing Pesticide
– Popcorn Lovers Beware! There are roughly 40 insecticides currently registered for use as an active chemical on popcorn, including 3 bee-toxic neonicotinoid chemicals: clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid. Between 79 and 100 percent of corn seed in the U.S. is coated with neonicotinoids, and popcorn is no exception. In October 2015, one week after The Center for Food Safety (CFS) launched their campaign, the popcorn giant, Pop Weaver — the second largest popcorn supplier in the U.S. — made a precedent setting commitment to phase out bee-toxic popcorn seed coatings. This is the first U.S. food company to commit to phasing out uses of neonicotinoid seed coatings. CFS’s campaign also targeted Pop Secret, which sources much of its popcorn from Pop Weaver, and is working to secure a similar commitment from the company.
“We are pleased to see a leader in the popcorn industry make this commitment to protecting bees and the environment. With a large share of the market, Pop Weaver has the ability to not only become leaders in pollinator protection but to also influence their competitors in the popcorn seed market to do the same. This is a very important market shift. We have offered to work with Pop Weaver and other popcorn companies to effectively reach these benchmarks and ultimately phase out the use of bee-toxic seed coatings all together.” Larissa Walker, Pollinator Program Director at Center for Food Safety.
Seed coatings are a common but relatively new method of applying pesticides to crops. The seed is covered with the pesticide or pesticide mixture (fungicide, herbicide, and insecticide combinations are common), allowing the chemicals to be taken up into the plant as it grows – ultimately rendering the whole plant toxic. Yet only 5% of the active chemical pesticide on the seed coating enters the plant, leaving the remaining 95% to enter the environment through seed dust or soil contamination and water runoff.
The widespread use of neonicotinoid seed coatings on popcorn is particularly alarming because of their documented harm to pollinator species, like bees, that are vital to our food supply and environment. To date, more than 4 million Americans have called on the government to take stronger actions to protect bees from toxic pesticides like neonicotinoids.
Pop Weaver is not alone in taking action to protect bees from neonicotinoids: In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that their agency is banning neonicotinoid insecticides from being used on all wildlife refuges nationwide by January 2016. The European Union has a moratorium on the most toxic uses of neonicotinoids. The Province of Ontario, Canada plans to reduce the number of acres planted with neonicotinoid-coated corn and soybean seeds by 80 percent by 2017.
4 Million Signatures to Ban Neonicotinoid Pesticides were presented to the White House by conservationists, beekeepers, farmers, and ordinary citizens demanding a ban on pesticides implicated in the die-off of pollinators.
A coalition of 125 groups including eleven of the nation’s top environmental organizations gathered these 4 million signatures in an effort to keep pressure on the Obama Administration to take action, urging the President to take meaningful action on neonicotinoids.
Lowe’s & Home Depot are phasing out Bee-Killing Pesticides – I stopped shopping at Lowes as part of the “Bee Boycott.” After nearly two years of pressure from the public, in April 2015, Lowe’s Home Improvement announced it will begin taking steps to protect bees and similarly affected pollinators from neonicotinoids.
Lowe’s is committed to regularly reviewing the products and information we offer customers and we’re taking the following actions to support pollinator health:
- Including greater organic and non-neonic product selections
- Phasing out the sale of products that contain neonic pesticides within 48 months as suitable alternatives become commercially available (Alternatives can be worse, so the public needs to keep an eye on this one)
- Working with growers to eliminate the use of neonic pesticides on bee-attractive plants we sell
- Encouraging growers to use biological control programs
- Educating employees and customers through in-store resources such as brochures, fact sheets and product labels
In December 2015, Home Depot announced it would stop pretreating plants with neonicotinoid pesticides by 2018. They have already stopped treating 80 percent of plants with the harmful chemicals. Last summer, Home Depot announced it would start labeling neonicotinoid-treated plants after a Friends of the Earth study found that more than 50 percent of plants sold in Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart were treated with bee-killing pesticides. Hurray for public pressure! We can vote and make big changes with our consumer $$!
White House Introduces Plans to Improve Bee Health – In May 2015, the Presidential Task Force released its strategy on reducing honey bee population declines and how to improve Bee health and habitat. The USDA and Department of Interior also introduced a set of guidelines for land planners and overseers outlining how to maintain pollinator-friendly properties.
Federal Court Rules in Favor of Bees – Bees Win! In September 2015, a federal appeals court overturned the EPA’s approval of Sulfoxaflor, another pesticide that is known to be highly toxic to bees. When sprayed on crops, this pesticide kills insects instantaneously and absorbs into the plant itself. Bugs that eat the plant die as well. Judge Mary M. Schroeder wrote that the EPA “unconditionally registered” Sulfoxaflor without sufficient research into the toxicity of the chemical compound. Judge Schroeder ordered that Sulfoxaflor be pulled from stores by Oct. 18, 2015. In response, the EPA issued a cancellation order on Sulfoxaflor products, prohibiting the distribution and sale of these bee-killing pesticide-laden items.
Chemical companies warn of a return to older pesticides that are even more harmful to bees. But, there is little evidence for this and recent farming trends are towards using natural predators and crop rotation to control any pests. That’s the good news.
U.S. Considers Listing the Rusty Patched Bumblebee as Endangered – There are no bees or bumblebees listed under the Endangered Species Act. This move comes amid growing concern about the decline of honeybees which pollinate a third of the world’s food supply. Once common to the Eastern Seaboard and the Midwest, the rusty-patched bumblebee has disappeared from 87 percent of its historic habitat. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in January 2013 petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the rusty-patched bumblebee as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. After no action was taken, the group followed up with a lawsuit in 2014. Last week the FWS finally responded and agreed that the species may merit protection. The agency will conduct a 12-month review to determine if an Endangered Species Act listing is warranted.
“This is a pretty big deal, even though this is just the first step in the listing process. Listing the species could not only help preserve it, but also help the many plants that it has historically pollinated, including wildflowers and commercial crops such as blueberries, cranberries, apples, and alfalfa.” Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Program Director for the Xerces Society. She cowrote the initial petition.
So, it seems, the tobacco industry has found another market for its toxic nicotine. But like all issues at this time, consumers and activist organizations are fighting this greed too. Remember to use organic farming and gardening methods, and to add flowering plants to your home gardens to help grow our bee colonies — and to save the bees, ourselves, and our planet. Bee well!