By Kaytlin Robertson, University of Saskatchewan student
Neonicotinoids are commonly used agricultural systemic pesticides typically applied to the seed and transferred through the vascular system to the rest of the plant, making all parts of it toxic to any insect that chews on it (LinkTV, 2012). There is a public perception that these chemicals should be banned because they are impacting beneficial organisms such as bees, destroying the base of the food chain and polluting the entire ecosystem. In reality, since neonicotinoids are a seed coating that are buried in the soil, their contamination throughout the ecosystem is not as widespread compared to liquid sprayed pesticides.
Are neonicotinoids causing impaired performance, lethal effects of bees, or colony collapse disorder?
Neonicotinoid criticism comes from people who are misinformed about the topic. Partially due to the strong influence from environmental agencies, these pesticides are being blamed for the declining population of pollinators. The fact is that the weakening of honeybee health can be related to multiple stressors including inadequate food sources/poor nutrition, genetics, habitat loss, colony management practices, diseases and parasites including tobacco ringspot virus and varroa mites (Entine, 2014).
The number of colonies in the US has fallen by 45% in the last 60 years, these numbers began to decline way before neonicotinoids were introduced (LinkTV, 2014). In addition, of the neonic residues found in hives, its presence is hundreds of times below the risk of having any harmful or lethal impact on bees (Entine, 2014). If evidence were gathered to support the claims of neonicotinoids being detrimental to bees or the ecological system, the agriculture industry would not likely risk its ecological system nor the food chain supply to continue with the use of these products.
Why agriculture shouldn’t be blamed for the decline in pollinators
Many trials and studies have concluded that these registered pesticides when used properly under field-realistic conditions and at appropriate doses, show no long-term adverse effects on pollinators, bird populations, and other wildlife (LinkTV, 2014). It is the duty of regulatory systems to evaluate whether or not a product meets standards for the protection of the environment and human health prior to its release onto the market. This process is very expensive and time-consuming; these investments of time and money to ensure the safety of a product should be enough to convince the public that the decisions made by the regulatory systems are scientifically correct. While there are a number of contradicting research out there, they are typically selective reviews demonstrating worst-case-scenario studies.
In July of 2015, Ontario introduced new regulatory requirements to limit the sale and use of neonicotinoid-treated seeds (Benzie, 2015). This was an attempt to reduce the number of acres using these chemicals and phase them out over time, with the exception of proven cases of serious pest problems. The government hopes that this jurisdiction will help farmers to become better environmental stewards of the land and strengthen their approach to protecting their crops.
Farmers have the most to lose if neonics are to impact the bee population. Farmers continue to use neonics as a trusted and safe pesticide. Banning neonicotinoids forces farmers to return to older unsustainable pesticides, which are less effective and more toxic to humans and bees, and moves them away from their goal. Not only would the environment suffer, so could the economy. Neonicotinoids are the fastest growing group of insecticides in the United States, used on over 200 million acres (over 40%) of cropland (LinkTV, 2014). A ban would mean more time and money put into research towards another solution.
Spread the buzz!
What can be done? Instead of eliminating neonicotinoids from the market, we can inform people about the safety of the products when properly used, and the possible dangers when abused. Monitoring the scale of use to ensure that these pesticides remain sustainable is important, however, it is the public that has the power to influence change, and the spread of misinformation can create enough uncertainty about an issue and influence others to question science and turn to unreasonable politics instead.
For more information, check out these references:
Benzie, R. 2015. Ontario first in North America to curb bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides. Accessed at: https://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2015/06/09/ontario-first-in-north-america-to-ban-bee-killing-neonicotinoid-pesticides.html
Earth Focus/LinkTV. 2012. Killing Bees: Are Government and Industry Responsible? Accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i97o0slqv-s
Earth Focus/LinkTV. 2014. Neonicotinoids: The New DDT? Accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWLPORypiB8
Entine, J. 2014. Bee Deaths Reversal: As Evidence Points Away From Neonics As Driver, Pressure Builds To Rethink Ban. Accessed at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2014/02/05/bee-deaths-reversal-as-evidence-points-away-from-neonics-as-driver-pressure-builds-to-rethink-ban/#600b5a0a5f9d
Kaytlin is in her fourth & final year of her Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture with a major in Agronomy and a minor in Agribusiness at the University of Saskatchewan. Born and raised in the town of Unity, Saskatchewan, despite not have any farming roots, she is proud to be an Agro. Kaytlin is eager to go out into the industry and put to use all that she has learned so far while continually expanding her knowledge and passion to grow.