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December 07, 2016
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Studies say pesticides are killing bees; Manufacturers call studies flawed

A cone flower attracts a honey bee.
TRR photos by Fritz Mayer

Because of uncertainties about the effects of neonicotinoids on bees, the European Union has banned the use of the two chemicals, as well as a third one, thiametoxam, for two years beginning in December 2013. The ban was based on research of the European Food Safety Authority, which said there were gaps in data about the effects of the chemicals. The use of the chemicals will be considered again after the two-year ban.

The Harvard study adds more fuel to a group of beekeepers and environmental groups in the United States, which last year petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately ban clothianidin because it presents an “imminent hazard” to bees and the bee-keeping industry that could mean billions of dollars in lost bees and honey.

The EPA did not act on the petition, but evidence continues to mount that pesticides are at least part of the problem with the crash of honeybee populations in the United States and many other countries and other studies back the Harvard one.

A group called the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides in June concluded a four-year analysis of more than 800 peer-reviewed studies regarding neonicotinoids, and found they are causing “significant damage to a wide range of invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees.”

One of the lead authors of the work, Dr Jean-Marc Bonmatin of The National Centre for Scientific Research in France said, “The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT. Far from protecting food production the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperiling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning exposure to pesticides widely used in farming.”

Further, a paper published in the journal Nature on July 9, argues that the pesticides are not only harming insects but also birds. Scientists from Radboud University and the Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology and Birdlife in the Netherlands found that areas with high amounts of imidacloprid experienced yearly declines in bird populations.

One of the authors said there was clearly a parallel between the current neonicotinoid issue and the DDT issue brought to light by Rachel Carson in the 1960s.