By: Chris Draper
Date: May 18, 2016
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently admitted that neonicotinoids – a class of insecticides – can harm honeybees when used on cotton and citrus, according to an environmental risk assessment study.
It’s no secret that bees are essential to the food supply. They are responsible for 80 percent of pollination, which is necessary for plant reproduction. The bulk of agriculture – and in turn, plant food – is dependent upon the flourishing of bees.(1)
The study is the first scientific risk assessment to analyze the impact a class of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, can have on bees in the long-term. The EPA previously found that the chemical didn’t harm bees, but in other instances, found it posed a significant threat.
Neonicotinoids are an existential threat to the bee population
Some groups have called for a ban on neonicotinoids because of the impact they have on the bee population. Europe at one point banned neonicotinoids all together, but later lifted the ban.
It’s not just neonicotinoids that pose an existential threat to the bee population. Other factors include a lack of food, parasites, maladies and the various ways pesticides and fungicides interact, according to bee expert May Berenbaum at the University of Illinois.
“Anything to reduce stress on bees is helpful,” University of Maryland entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp, told sources. “I am not convinced that neonics are a major driver of colony loss.”(1)
The risk report published Wednesday is the first of four analyzing this class of chemicals. The study was conducted by the EPA and California’s environmental agency.(1)
The EPA’s analysis found that a certain level of concentration of the pesticide imidacloprid is a tipping point for beehives. If bees bring nectar back to the hive that has more than 25 parts per billion of the chemical, then it will lead to fewer bees and less production, according to Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention.(1)
On the other hand, if the nectar had concentrations of the chemical below 25 parts per billion, then it will have little, if any, ill side-effects on the beehive. There was a sharp line between danger and no danger, Jones claims.(1)
Concentration levels are contingent upon the crop, he added. Nectar of cotton and citrus fruits were above dangerous concentrations, but levels were not dangerous corn, and most vegetables, berries and tobacco. Other crops consisting of legumes, melons, tree nuts and herbs were inconclusive and required additional testing.
Study fails to consider impact insecticides have on wild bees
The study used commercial honeybees because they are an excellent surrogate for all pollinators, Jones said. Nevertheless, Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director of the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, criticized the agency for not including wild bees, such as bumblebees, which are much more sensitive to pesticides. As a result, Burd deemed the study “weak.”(1)
In response, Jones said the risk assessment was a scientific report rather than a regulation. The EPA will not decide how to act appropriately until public comments are made and the report is finalized.
Imidacloprid-maker Bayer Crop Sciences claims the EPA “appears to overestimate the potential for harmful exposures in certain crops” while ignoring the benefits. For some reason, the agency thinks the benefits of neonicotinoids outweigh the risk of killing the entire bee population.(1)
The EPA considered banning the use of multiple pesticides, which harm bees when crops are flowering and bees are acting as commercial pollinator. The federal government is also attempting to increase wild flower planting to give bees additional food.
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