Biodiversity: Popular insecticides (under review by the EPA in this country) are harming birds in the United States

The increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides in the continental United States may have impacted bird populations and reduced bird diversity, according to a paper published this week in Nature Sustainability.

Bird biodiversity is declining at a marked rate. Bird populations in the United States have decreased by 29% since 1970, a rate of decline which has been attributed to various factors including the increased use of pesticides in agricultural production.

Nicotine-based pesticides — known as neonicotinoids — have been used increasingly in the United States over recent decades.  Previous research has shown that neonicotinoids are potentially toxic to birds and other non-target species. However, the impact of these pesticides on bird diversity in the United States is unclear. Continue reading

Science Media Centre posts expert reaction to EU’s neonicotinoid ban

As AgScience reported at the weekend (HERE), the European Commission has voted to ban neonicotinoid pesticides in EU member states. The decision is expected to come into force by the end of 2018, with only closed greenhouses exempt.

The Science Media Centre notes (HERE) that the decision follows growing evidence the insecticides may be linked to declines in pollinator populations, including honeybees.

New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority has said it would watch the European Commission’s decision, but that the rules around the use of neonicotinoids in New Zealand were working to protect pollinators.

The Science Media Centre has asked experts to comment on the ban.

  • Mark McNeill, scientist, AgResearch, comments:

“The challenge around neonicotinoids is that they are an effective insecticide to control seedling pests in New Zealand such as the Argentine stem weevil, black beetle, springtails, caterpillars and slugs, that can have significant impacts on the establishment of pasture and forage crops. Protection during the seedling stage is critical to the production and persistence of these pastures and crops.

“The neonicotinoids are also less toxic to humans than organophosphate insecticides, and are considered a more environmentally friendly means of crop protection compared to broad-spectrum foliar sprays. This is because they are highly targeted (being buried in the soil with seed) and therefore do not have the same risks of environmental exposure and impact (e.g. through aerial dispersal).

“In addition to reduced weed invasion and improved persistence and yield, the neonicotinoids also allow crops and pastures to be established by direct drilling (where the seed is drilled into unploughed soil), reducing nutrient leaching and carbon emissions.

“While it is early days yet, the withdrawal of neonicotinoids will cause some issues for farmers, as there are no ready alternatives. Irrespective of any future decisions, NZ farmers need to have effective and safe treatments for controlling pests at the seedling stage.”

No conflict of interest.

  • Professor Peter Dearden, Genomics Aotearoa and the Bio-Protection Research Centre, University of Otago, comments:

“Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides that are used extensively to protect crops both in New Zealand and overseas. Many neonicotinoids have systemic effects on plants meaning treating the seeds with neonicotinoids can leave a plant protected throughout its life. Neonicotinoids have largely replaced problematic insecticides used in the past, such as organophosphates and DDT.

“In recent years questions have arisen about the impact of neonicotinoids on pollinating insects, especially bees.  A long-term reduction in pollinating insects has occurred, especially in Europe, and even more worrying, studies have shown a similar 70% decline in flying insects in Europe. These declines have been suggested to be due to neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids have been shown to have sublethal effects on bees, and bee colonies have been shown to be negatively affected by neonicotinoid exposure. These findings have led to the recent European ban on neonicotinoid use.

“In New Zealand, neonicotinoids are used extensively, though on a different set of crops and pasture than in Europe. In New Zealand managed honeybees are doing well, and there are no indications of the long-term decline in bees seen in Europe. We do not, however, have good long-term monitoring projects of insects other than bees in New Zealand, and so have no real idea if we have the declines in insects seen in Europe.

“It is important to point out that neonicotinoids are far safer insecticides than those used previously, and that we have very few alternatives if neonicotinoids are banned. Neonicotinoids are also the key ingredients in Vespex, an important way of controlling invasive wasps in New Zealand (a huge benefit to our environment) and important tools in controlling pasture devouring weevils.What is really needed in New Zealand is an understanding of the impacts of our use of insecticides on both agricultural and natural environments, as well as monitoring of residues from insecticides in groundwater and soil. With this data, we could make informed decisions on the costs and benefits of insecticides.

“Alternatives to insecticides exist, many of them researched by New Zealand’s Bio-Protection Research Centre, but to stop the use of insecticides completely would raise challenges for our agricultural productivity.

“The neonicotinoid story, as well as that of organophosphates and DDT, may indicate that our approach to insects generally is wrong. Insects are key parts of our ecosystems and critical to our continued existence on the planet. Perhaps we should be cherishing them, finding ways to avoid agricultural damage without killing them, and ensuring they are not needlessly killed, as a better way to ensure sustainable agriculture.”

No conflict of interest.

Source: Science Media Centre

EPA keeps an eye on the European Union’s expansion of its neonicotinoid pesticide ban

The European Union has expanded its ban of neonicotinoid pesticides, based on the threat they pose to pollinators.

Before the decision had been announced, New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority advised it was standing by for the results from the European Union vote on whether more restrictions should be applied to the use of neonicotinoids in member states.

“When new information is released, the EPA always takes a good look at the science, evaluating it to see if there’s something we need to factor into our thinking here,” says Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, the EPA’s General Manager for Hazardous Substances and New Organisms.

“While existing New Zealand rules around the use of neonicotinoids are working, there could still be instances where non-target organisms, like bees and insects are exposed to the insecticide.”

When used incorrectly, neonicotinoids potentially could have negative impacts on pollinators, says Dr Thomson-Carter.

The current New Zealand rules include not spraying insecticides in close proximity to bee hives or crops with budding or flowering plants where bees may gather and feed.

The European Food Safety Authority recently published updated risk assessments of three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

The assessments confirmed that many uses of these neonicotinoids represent a risk to the three types of bees they assessed, says Dr Thomson-Carter.

The EPA works closely with the OECD-initiated Pollinator Incidents Information System, through the EPA’s Pollinator Strategy.

“This system is building a global picture of bee health and incidents, so we can compare what’s happening in New Zealand with other countries bearing in mind that agricultural practices in New Zealand are not the same as in the EU,” says Dr Thomson-Carter.

“This is key to finding practical ways to protect our pollinators, which can only be achieved by sharing information and raising awareness among chemical manufacturers, bee keepers and the public.”

The European Union’s decision to expand its controversial ban of neonicotinoid pesticides pleased environmental groups but was greeted with concern by farming associations, which fear economic harm.

In 2013, the EU placed a moratorium on clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam, forbidding their use in flowering crops that appeal to honey bees and other pollinating insects.

The pesticides are commonly coated on to seeds to protect them from soil pests; when the seed germinates, the pesticide is absorbed and spreads through the tissue, Science magazine reported.

It eventually reaches pollen and nectar, which is how pollinators are exposed. Many studies have shown harm to pollinators in laboratory settings; large field trials have produced mixed results.

The European Commission last year proposed extending the ban of the three pesticides to all field crops because of growing evidence they can harm domesticated honey bees and wild pollinators.

A scientific review by the European Food Safety Authority, released this February, added momentum to the campaign.

The representatives of member states passed the ban today in the commission’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed.

Neonicotinoids may still be used in permanent greenhouses.

Global research uncovers new ecological threats from neonicotinoid pesticides

Neonicotinoid pesticides pose severe threats to ecosystems worldwide, according to new information  in an update to the world’s most comprehensive scientific review of the ecological impacts of systemic pesticides.

The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP) released the second edition of its Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Effects of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems today in Ottawa, Canada. It synthesizes more than 500 studies since 2014, including some industry-sponsored studies.

The review also considered fipronil, a closely related systemic pesticide used in Europe.

Neonics are toxic even at very low doses. They are water soluble and do not readily degrade in soil, resulting in sustained and chronic exposure in terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Extensive and routine application of neonics in agriculture is causing large-scale environmental contamination and a significant threat to biodiversity.

Neonics, which are linked to the steep decline of bees, also have the potential to contaminate our food systems. A closely related systemic pesticide, fipronil, is at the centre of a growing food safety scandal in Europe after high levels of the toxic insecticide were detected in egg products sold in 15 EU states, plus Switzerland and Hong Kong.

Millions of eggs have been recalled from shops and warehouses across Europe out of concerns that contaminated eggs pose a serious safety risk to consumers.

The updated assessment confirms that neonics have major impacts and represent a worldwide threat to biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services.

First introduced in the 1990s, neonics are now the most widely used insecticides in the world. Agricultural applications include seed treatments, soil treatments, foliar sprays and turf products.

Neonics are also used in forestry, flea treatments for pets and domestic and commercial lawn-care products.

“Today’s findings reiterate the need to stop massive uses of systemic pesticides, including most urgently their prophylactic use in seed treatment,” said Jean-Marc Bonmatin, research scientist at France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and TFSP vice-chair.

“The use of these pesticides runs contrary to environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. It provides no real benefit to farmers, decreases soil quality, hurts biodiversity and contaminates water, air and food. There is no longer any reason to continue down this path of destruction.”

The report is composed of three papers reviewing new data on the mode of action, metabolism, toxicity and environmental contamination of neonicotinoids and fipronil; the lethal and sublethal effects of neonicotinoids and fipronil on organisms and their impacts on ecosystems; and the efficacy of neonicotinoids and fipronil in agriculture and alternative approaches to pest control.

“Only a tiny fraction of pesticide use serves its purpose to fight pests. Most simply contaminates the environment with extensive damage to non-target organisms,” said Faisal Moola, an adjunct professor of ecology at the University of Toronto.

In 2013, the European Union imposed a moratorium on certain uses of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam on bee-attractive crops, and is now considering a proposal to extend this moratorium. France’s new biodiversity law includes a provision to ban all neonics starting in September 2018.

“Overall, the global experiment with neonics is emerging as a clear example of pest-control failure,” Bonmatin said.

“Governments around the world must follow the lead of countries like France to ban neonics and move toward sustainable, integrated pest management models, without delay.”

The TFSP’s 2017 update will be published in a forthcoming edition of the scientific journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.