A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog entry on the demise of our bees after the introduction of neonicotinoids in the past decade. At the time, the EPA had essentially admitted that although they were going to continue allowing the use of these pesticides, they vowed to keep observing their effect on the bee populations. As I have enjoyed watching the bees feast on a flowering Cardoon these past few days, I thought I’d check in to see if, in the past two years, the EPA have gotten any closer to a final assessment and decision on these neuro-active insecticides. As it turns out, they have not.
There are several pesticides in the neonicotinoid family. The most common are imidacloprids, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. As I write this, practically all corn grown in the American Midwest, and most of the soy bean seeds, are treated with one or the other of the latter two. Overall, neonicotinoids are less toxic to mammals than earlier generations of pesticides, which is why they have become so popular. When first launched in the 1990’s, they were the first new class of pesticides introduced in 50 years. However, as the world is beginning to see, they are not quite so benevolent to our insects, birds, or aquatic invertebrates. Clothianidin is one of the most toxic substances known to honey bees. Recently an instance of massive bee death in nearby Wilsonville put that fact front and center on the news.
As always, the Europeans are ahead of the US in matters of environmental safekeeping. In April of this year (2013), the European Union voted to ban neonicotinoids for two years on flowering plants, to see if there would be a change in the rampant death of bees – for lack of a better name referred to as “Colony Collapse Disorder”. Previously France, Germany and Italy had already enacted a suspension of these products. The manufacturer of two of the most common of these toxins is Bayer, a German company, so I imagine that the German decision in particular has to sting. Good for the Germans to prioritize ecological health over monetary gains! 🙂
Positive developments are happening state-side too, I’m happy to report! As recent as March 2013, the American Bird Conservancy, citing this threat to our wildlife, called for a ban. The same month a group of beekeepers, conservationists and sustainable agriculture advocates sued the EPA, on the grounds that its toxicity evaluations are inadequate, and that they rely on studies performed by the chemical industry itself when registering the pesticides as “safe” to use. Then, just a couple of weeks ago on July 12, Oregon’s own Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer introduced “The Save American Pollinators Act” to the US Congress. I like how you think, Earl! But, given the Congress we currently have, I’m not holding my breath. If it were to be signed into law, the US would follow the European Union in suspending the use of four neonicotinoids until their EPA registration review is complete – including the three that have already been banned in Europe. As the garden-obsessed daughter of a beekeeper, and a resident of Oregon, I will cross my fingers and hope for the best. And, most likely, I will send Earl Blumenauer a thank you note expressing my gratitude for his good work! These kinds of positive actions deserve to be encouraged – don’t you think?