The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently concluded that “seed treatments provide little or no overall benefits to soybean production in most situations.”Meaning the use of systemic pesticides does not increase yield in comparison to growing soybeans without any chemical treatment. Incidentally, most soybeans grown in this country are genetically modified.
When my Co-Director and I first started doing research for our documentary Vanishing of the Bees, there were many theories as to why the bees were disappearing en masse. Eventually we discovered that Colony Collapse Disorder is linked to systemic pesticides, but at that time, the jury was still out.
Today there are studies coming out of Harvard, Yale, European institutions, and many other places worldwide confirming that widespread use of neonicotinoids is negatively affecting honey bees, as well as many other pollinator species and beneficial insects.
“EPA’s findings corroborate what several studies have already indicated—neonicotinoid seed coatings have not provided the agricultural benefits they were supposed to bring,” said Peter Jenkins, Center for Food Safety (CFS) attorney spearheading a lawsuit against EPA over neonicotinoids. “It is abundantly clear that the costs of neonicotinoids outweigh the benefits, and there is no excuse for the agency to continue to allow such indiscriminate use.”
Environmental Protection Agency Fails to Take Action
The truth is that these systemic pesticides are increasingly popular, generating big cash for giant corporations like Syngenta and Bayer — which had $39.8 billion in sales in 2012.
“EPA’s fundamental purpose is to protect the environment, and so far they’ve been protecting the bottom line of chemical companies who have sold farmers a bill of goods,” said Larissa Walker, pollinator campaign director at Center for Food Safety. “Maybe this new evidence will be enough to compel meaningful action that’s long overdue.”
In March 2014, Center for Food Safety released a comprehensive scientific literature review affirming that neonicotinoid seed coatings offer little benefit, do not increase crop yields, and cause widespread environmental and economic damage. The CFS review highlights EPA’s failure to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis, and called on EPA to suspend seed coating product registrations.
Neonics Deliver Few Benefits, Big Consequences
Neonicotinoids are nicotine-based pesticides that affect the navigational capabilities of honeybees — in addition to inducing other acute and chronic effects — and are considered a major factor in Colony Collapse Disorder. According to EPA’s analysis, neonicotinoid seed coatings are used on more than 23 million acres of soybeans in the U.S., and more than one million pounds of the insecticides were applied to soybean seeds from 2008 to 2012.
“Chemical companies have been charging higher costs for coated seeds that have failed to deliver benefits. Meanwhile, society at large continues to suffer the economic and environmental consequences of overusing neonicotinoids,” added Walker.
Neonicotinoid pesticides are also slow to break down, so they accumulate in the environments where they are applied. For instance, they can remain in the soil for 18 years. They also contaminate surface water and ground water, endangering not only pollinators, but also other beneficial species that inhabit these ecosystems.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 10 million bee hives have been lost since 2006, representing a two billion dollar cost to beekeepers. Honeybees pollinate about $20 to 30 billion worth of crops annually.
We need to stop this madness. These pesticides contaminate our environment, erode our bee populations, and harm other beings — including humans. We have come a long way since 2006, but the battle has not yet ended. Together, we can be the change we want to see.
Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.
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