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Global Simultaneous Die-Offs of Multiple Species
|Where Have All the Ladybirds Gone _ Part One.pdf||470.79 KB|
|Where Have All the Ladybirds Gone_ Part 2.pdf||716.48 KB|
This great article in two parts, from Australia, details the mass die-offs around the world, of many species - including the beautiful Ladybird Beetle that is surprisingly important to the web of life: Original Articles at: Part One: http://hydroponics.com.au/free-articles/where-have-all-the-ladybirds-gone and Part Two: http://hydroponics.com.au/free-articles/where-have-all-the-ladybirds-gon...
Where have all the ladybirds gone? Part 1
By Marilyn Steiner and Stephen Goodwin
In this two-part article, the authors shine a spotlight on neonicotinoid pesticides against a backdrop of widespread use of this group and concerning reports of an alarming and increasing loss of biodiversity. While honey bees have been the focus of concern, other pollinators and invertebrates, birds and even the lowly earthworm are at risk.
Part I examines neonicotinoid uses in Australia and problems ascribed to their use overseas, particularly massive losses of honey bees. Are honey bees under threat from colony collapse disorder in Australia? Are we equipped to adequately address environmental pesticide management issues?
In spring, 2010, we noticed that ladybird beetles were conspicuously absent from our garden. Not just down in numbers, but absent. There didn’t seem to be any shortage of aphids, so where were they all? As summer progressed, we continued to look out for them. No shortage of plant-eating and fungus-eating ladybirds, but no insect and mite-eating species. In summer and again recently, we emailed colleagues in the bug management business. Had they noticed a decline in ladybirds? They reported major declines in the Sydney basin, southern Queensland and Adelaide Plains, but not in Western Australia or Victoria. Our neighbours grow organic stone fruit on one side and citrus on the other. Heavy rain washes fertiliser, and potentially pesticides, from the citrus farm into the creek we all share for irrigation. It’s well known that run-off can leach some residual pesticides from soil into creeks and rivers, but we have no idea if this is the case and even less chance of proving it. The dots are a long way from being joined, because population fluctuations in insects are the norm. Perhaps the main question to ask is, if ladybirds did in fact disappear from the Australian fauna, would anybody care enough or have sufficient funds to launch an investigation?
You may think that disappearing ladybirds is not a particularly newsworthy item, nor worth the expenditure of valuable research dollars. The fact is, research dollars in Australia for environmental issues such as IPM have almost dried up in the last 2 years, and this in itself is a major concern. The proportion of projects which, relate to integrated pest management (IPM) that are funded through Horticulture Australia Ltd (HAL), particularly those involving national vegetable levy funds, has declined from 17% in 2007 to 8.7% in 2009. The proportion of projects going directly to AUSVEG is significant and has increased substantially in the same period, going from 6.25 to 12.5%. Is the money, which is collected through grower levies, voluntary contributors and the Federal Government, being well spent? How is it possible to assess this? HAL is being less than transparent about how funding is being allocated. We asked several times for information on the dollar value of individual projects, but met with refusal. Without this information, it is not possible to see how much is being assigned to specific program areas, and where the trends lie.
In PH&G issue #118, May-June 2011, we reported on a highly successful pilot project for IPM in capsicum, which was inexplicably refused further modest funding. Concerned IPM researchers met in Adelaide in July this year, and formed the Mitcham Sustainable Horticulture Group. All present expressed deep concern about the drying up of funding for research and development, and frustration at their inability to provide real input into the decision-making process. Also being queried is the commitment of AUSVEG management towards IPM. While ostensibly the agency is supportive, in line with strong support for IPM from growers, the disenfranchising of the research community and withdrawal of R&D funding is causing deep disquiet. Two years ago AUSVEG formed strategic partnerships with Bayer CropScience, Syngenta and Dupont. This raised a red flag at the time, for obvious reasons. While donations to the cause are no doubt welcome, such arrangements are seldom altruistic, and can create potential conflicts of interest. We were also refused information on the agreements within these partnerships. It appears that only the CEO and the AUSVEG board are privy to them. At the AUSVEG Convention in April 2011, these three chemical companies all had invited speaker spots. Bayer CropScience brought in Dr Maria Teresa Almanza, Product Development Manager Insecticides, Beneficials and Pollinators for Bayer CropScience in Germany to deliver a presentation on Beneficials and Pollinators. This is an irony that will not escape many of our informed readers. The talk, which she entitled ‘Bayer CropScience and Sustainable IPM Systems’, conveniently did not actually mention pollinators, nor imidacloprid and other Bayer CropScience products, which have incurred the wrath of beekeepers and environmentalists world-wide. The audience was told that Bayer CropScience was very committed to IPM; its new pesticides Belt® (flubendiamine) and Movento® (spirotetramat) reflected this. Hold that thought, it’s certainly a commendable sentiment, and a step in the right direction.
[Photo] Honey bees can pick up neonicotinoids from flowers (Image Dan Papacek)
The lucky country Australia has perhaps been sheltered from the long-running controversy engulfing the rest of the world about the role of pesticides in the decline of honey bees. Colony collapse disorder, a malady characterised by honey bees inexplicably disappearing from hives, has galvanised beekeepers in North America, Europe and much of the rest of the world since the 1990s. Annual losses have run to millions of hives annually and declines of over 40%, particularly in wintering colonies. A recent post in The Australasian Beekeeper by Jeffrey Gibbs, a beekeeper from NSW, threatens to bring this debate closer to home (http://theabk.com.au/article/neonicotinoids-australia). While authorities maintain that there is no colony collapse disorder in Australia, Jeff claims that there are half the number of bees that there used to be. This is quite possibly due to multiple causes, but he said that beekeepers have learnt to stay away from some broadacre crops because of adverse experiences with bee losses. According to an APVMA spokesperson, Australia has a wide variety of food resources available to bees (i.e. honey bees), particularly flowering Eucalypts, so honey bees are less dependent on crops that might have been treated. Jeff gives a good summary of the problems encountered elsewhere with neonicotinoid insecticides, the major chemical group of concern. He also queries the cause of the huge fish kill in the Darling River at the agricultural town of Bourke in north-western New South Wales in March this year. Millions of fish and crayfish were killed following record rainfalls, which flooded surrounding areas. While officially recorded as a black water issue caused by low levels of dissolved oxygen in the river, the scuttlebutt is that pesticide residues from surrounding cotton and other crops, usually under dryland farming, are another possibility.
While the APVMA, Australia’s pesticide regulatory body, requests that Adverse Impact Reports should be sent in if there are any observed problems with pesticides, Jeff maintains that in his fraternity, beekeepers rely on word of mouth, and no-one is keen to fill out forms or get involved with officialdom. The fact that the APVMA has to date not received any Adverse Impact Reports regarding bee losses is therefore not a cause for complacency. Responsibility for collecting and collating problems with pesticides and wildlife is shared among several agencies.
Brief history of colony collapse disorder (CCD) It is hardly possible to give a brief history of this problem, because it stretches back to the early 1990s and has engendered a huge amount of controversy. This has not abated today, far from it. The term ‘colony collapse disorder’ originated in the United States, but unusual bee losses were already evident in Europe. Declines of hives over winter of 10-20% are not unusual, but beekeepers were sustaining much greater losses than normal, and it was happening every year. An outwardly healthy colony rapidly deteriorated, but dead bees were hard to find. The bees just never made it back to the hive. The remaining bees were often infected with a large number of disease organisms.
In Europe, the impact on hives was sometimes less subtle. France lost a third of its commercial honey bees in 1999 following widespread use of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid as a seed dressing for sunflowers. France banned the product after outrage from beekeepers, and in 2003 banned the same product as a seed dressing on corn. Other uses remain though. Fipronil, a BASF phenylpyrazole product also very harmful to honey bees, and which acts in a very similar way to neonicotinoids, was allowed to step into the breach, with predictable results. Fipronil was also suspended in 2003 and since banned. In 2003 Bayer CropScience brought out clothianidin, which is yet another neonicotinoid even more toxic to bees than imidacloprid. France denied it registration, but Germany permitted it in 2006. In 2008, eight pesticide seed treatments containing imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiomethoxam and methiocarb were banned in Germany on canola and sweet corn after mass honey bee deaths (11,000 colonies) caused by clothianidin exposure. Bayer CropScience claimed misapplication of their product, but there appear to have been multiple deficiencies in the application process on corn. Clothianidin was later reinstated on canola. Similar die-offs have been reported in other countries, including Italy, Spain, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Greece, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, The Netherlands, Japan, China, India and Slovenia. While little talked about in the Western press, Japanese ecologists are becoming increasingly concerned about the loss of bees and biodiversity and are pressuring their government to ban neonicotinoids (www.mieliditalia.it/index.php/archivio-notizie/85-english-bees-environme... http://devcompage.com/?p=121). There is also a recent book by Syunsuke Funase (2008) entitled Neonicotinoids, Devilish Novel Pesticides. Silent Summer Without Bees, unfortunately in Japanese only. Few lessons appear to have been learned since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring alerted the world to the environmental disaster unfolding from overuse of broad-spectrum, persistent pesticides.
Neonicotinoids in the spotlight Neonicotinoids have been a subject of controversy since the early 1990s. This class of pesticides is derived from nicotine (sleep well, all you smokers). They are neurotoxins, active against a wide range of sucking and chewing insects, but relatively safe to mammals. They include imidacloprid (Bayer CropScience and others), acetamiprid (Bayer CropScience), thiamethoxam (Syngenta), thiacloprid (Bayer CropScience), and clothianidin (Bayer CropScience and others).
Imidacloprid is the largest selling and most widely used insecticide in the world, ever. It was first marketed by Bayer CropScience in 1991, and is exported to over 120 countries and used on more than 140 crops. Australia has nearly 150 registered products containing imidacloprid, including seed, foliar, veterinary, public health, turf and home garden uses. Formulations include sprays, seed dressings, drenches and tablets for use under trees. There is hardly an agricultural, horticultural, veterinary or domestic use not covered. It is ubiquitous in the environment. The most well-known products are Gaucho® seed dressing (cereals, beans, peas, lentils, lupins) and Confidor® (just about everything). The Gaucho label does not mention bees, but states that it is highly toxic to terrestrial and aquatic life. The Confidor label states, under ‘Precautions for Livestock’, that it is dangerous to bees. Bayer CropScience’s patent protection for imidacloprid expired in 2003, so many companies now produce and market it. Bayer CropScience then marketed its successor, clothianidin. It is very persistent in the crop, has a high carry-over of residues and is very mobile. It is also far more toxic to bees than imidacloprid, and toxic to collembola and earthworms, which would seem to us to wave a red flag for soil applications.
In Australia, clothianidin was registered in 2007 and is marketed by Sumitomo under the trade names Shield® (cotton, bananas, sugar cane, Eucalypts), Samurai® (apples, pears, grapes, stone fruit) and Stealth® (turf). The label, again under ‘Protection of Livestock’, warns about dangers to bees from foraging in treated crops, including that it may be toxic to bees for several days after application. Thiamethoxam is marketed in Australia as Cruiser® (cotton, corn, sorghum, sunflower) and Meridian® (turf). There is no warning on bees. Thiacloprid (Calypso®) is registered on stone and pome fruit, with claimed low toxicity to bees. Acetamiprid is produced and sold by many companies. In Australia it is registered by Certis on potatoes as Supreme®, by Dupont on cotton as Intruder®, and by Scotts on ornamentals as Crown® and Defender Maxguard®. The Crown label warns of adverse effects on transverse ladybirds, predatory mites, parasitic wasps and spiders, but not bees. The Defender Maxguard label recommends not spraying bees feeding in flowering plants. Otherwise there are no warnings regarding toxicity to bees. An EPA Pesticide Fact Sheet states that acetamiprid is moderately toxic to bees. It is moderately to highly mobile in most soils but degrades rapidly. Imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and acetamiprid have registered or permitted usage on some greenhouse crops in Australia. They may be used as a preventative treatment on seedlings before shipment to growers, making it next to impossible to use biocontrol agents during the life of the crop because of persistent residues.
These products are systemic. They are absorbed and carried into all parts of the plant, including flowers, pollen and nectar. Here they are available to be collected by bees and returned to hives for storage and feeding to other bees and progeny. Foragers are also exposed through direct contact with sprays, dust and residues on foliage. It doesn’t end there, as if that wasn’t enough. Neonicotinoids are very persistent in the environment, with a long half-life in soil, as many as years in heavy soils. They can be leached out by heavy rains into the ground water and thence into creeks, dams and river systems. Once applied, residues can persist and build up in soils so that they last from 1 year to the next and are available to be picked up by successive crops. A recently published book by Dr Henk Tennekes, a toxicologist in The Netherlands, paints a bleak picture of the current parlous state of European wildlife that can be directly related to neonicotinoid use (www.disasterinthemaking.com). Using imidacloprid as an example, he shows that it has leached into waterways over an extensive area with devastating results on aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates and therefore the wildlife dependent on them, particularly birds. Estimates of amounts applied worldwide are difficult to find, but Bayer CropScience reportedly earned a tidy US$830 million for global sales of imidacloprid and US$267 million dollars for clothianidin in 2010 alone.
Unlike some other countries, pesticide usage data is not collected in Australia. The APVMA authority extends only to the point of retail sale, though the organisation collects a levy based on dollar value of product sold (www.apvma.gov.au/about/reporting/product_sales.php). The scale of the potential problem in Australia is basically unknown unless the pesticide companies can be persuaded to release their sales volume data for individual pesticides, an unlikely prospect without a statutory requirement. The sales data for agricultural chemical products make interesting reading. Sales of insecticides and fungicides alone from 2004-2010 amounted to AU$500-$625 million per annum, with household insecticides making up more than a third of this total. Hopefully, the latter is a reflection of profit margin rather than volume applied, but it is still concerning.
In Part II the authors explore the evidence for neonicotinoid impacts on honey bees, the role of governments in regulating pesticides, and the changes required to adequately evaluate their environmental safety.
Reference: Funase, S. 2008. Neonicotinoids, Devilish Novel Pesticides. Silent Summer Without Bees. Sangokan, Tokyo. 235pp.
Where have all the ladybirds gone? Part 2
The authors explore the evidence for neonicotinoid impacts on honey bees, the role of governments in regulating pesticides, and the changes required to adequately evaluate their environmental safety.
By Marilyn Steiner and Stephen Goodwin
[Photo] Honey bee on Xanthostemon.
The evidence for neonicotinoid impacts on honey bees Despite all the losses of honey bees around the world, Bayer CropScience continues to claim that its neonicotinoids are one of the most environmentally compatible active ingredient groups for ecological systems when used correctly. In Europe, compensation to German and French farmers was paid in cases where acute toxicity was very closely tied to a treatment event. But in North America, the government has been very slow to act on negative reports at home and overseas. Most beekeepers need no convincing that pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, are behind the massive losses in managed hives experienced now for several years. Faced with a strong beekeeper association and several influential environmental advocacy groups in the US, significant research funds have been directed towards finding the causes of colony collapse disorder (CCD), but it has been a frustrating time for beekeepers. To an outsider, it seems that many of the projects are directed at first ruling out all other potential causes before considering pesticides. This is the last thing that anyone appears to want to look at. There is a great deal of research examining the role of parasites and pathogens such as Nosema and various viruses, but no obvious linkage to CCD has been found. The latest Progress
Report from the CCD steering committee makes interesting reading (www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/ccd/ccdprogressreport2010.pdf). Everyone agrees that bees are sick, but surely it must be that we are stressing the bees by carting them around the country or not feeding them properly? It’s like watching a long spiral with the bullseye in the centre. You know where they should be heading, but they want to go all around the spiral first before they move in towards the bullseye. Two years ago, Dr Jeff Pettis, a leading ARS scientist in Pennsylvania, found an interesting synergistic effect between minute doses of imidacloprid and the microsporidia Nosema. Imidacloprid plus Nosema caused colonies to decline faster, a significant finding. In 2010 Alaux et al. in France, working independently, found the same effect, as did Vidau et al. (2011) with fipronil and thiacloprid in France. But Pettis didn’t publish his results, and now questions are being asked as to why (www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/exclusive-bees-facing-a-poisone...).
Pettis appeared before the UK Parliament in March this year claiming that he still wasn’t convinced that neonicotinoids should be blamed for bee losses, because he couldn’t reproduce the results in the field. Yet field experiments are notoriously difficult to draw conclusions from because of the wide range of variables. This is particularly so for honey bees, which forage over many kilometres. You also have a product that has been shown to affect the immune system of honey bees at extremely low doses, almost below the limits of detection. It beggars belief that the world-wide loss of bees, and the corresponding release of neonicotinoids into the fields, forests and gardens of huge swathes of the world, is simply a coincidence. Particularly when we know that they do, in fact, exhibit the effects being seen in laboratory trials. A recent paper by Mullin et al. (2010) in the US found high levels of miticides and agrochemicals in North American apiaries, over 150 actives in all. It is hard to believe some or all of them are not having an impact. What they didn’t find were any appreciable amounts of neonicotinoids, but potentially the bees could have consumed the contaminated pollen and nectar, which is usually where the residues are found, or not made it back to the hive. At higher concentrations imidaclorid is repellent, but perhaps they only start to pick it up at below the bees’ own detection limits? Cumulative intake of tiny doses will eventually compromise their nervous and immune systems, which is the effect scientists are reporting.
There is a mounting body of evidence that not only will minute amounts of neonicotinoids produce the end results seen by beekeepers, but also some fungicides can produce synergistic effects when they are used in combination with neonicotinoids and other pesticides. In one case a certain fungicide increased neonicotinoid toxicity 1000-fold. Fungicides and neonicotinoids are combined routinely in many seed treatment formulations. Do the regulatory authorities consider the issue of synergism with other crop protection products, and to what extent? The possibilities for interaction are real and need to be addressed.
The dossier on known harmful effects of neonicotinoids is increasing. Many reports can be found in www.cbgnetwork.org, the German consumer watchdog group Coalition Against Bayer CropScience Dangers; www.buzzaboutbees.net/tom-theobald.html, a US site maintained by Tom Theobald, an activist US beekeeper; www.farmlandbirds.net/en/taxonomy/term/3, a Dutch site maintained by Henk Tennekes, exploring the links between bird and insect decline and neonicotinoids; and www.bijensterfte.nl/nl/node/ , another Dutch site run by the University of Utrecht detailing scientific studies. There is also an extensive report by Buglife, The Invertebrate Conservation Trust, a UK environmental group (Kindemba 2009). A good review article on pesticides and honey bee toxicity provides breadth to the problem of CCD in the US (Johnson et al. 2010). Tennekes (2010a) states that the effects of neonicotinoids on the insect’s nervous system are cumulative and irreversible; the total dose required to kill insects is smaller if administered over a longer time period. Even minute amounts can be fatal, so for honey bees there is no safe dose. In his subsequent book The Systemic Insecticides: a disaster in the making (Tennekes 2010b), he charts the decline of birds in Europe and draws a clear link between not only the loss of honey bees, but dramatic declines in birds and aquatic life. He points out that most of the birds in decline are those that eat insects, but direct effects on birds are also known. Neonicotinoid levels in groundwater in The Netherlands are high enough to far exceed toxicity ratings for a wide range of biota. A recent paper by Maini et al. (2010) also raises questions about the scientific neutrality of some of the published papers, and the narrow focus of toxicity evaluations. Other people in many countries are making the same observations about loss of birds and pollinators. For ourselves we have noted for several years the depressing declines in wildlife in the UK during our annual visits to relatives. During a half hour walk in a leafy suburb in southern England last September, we saw only one bird. There were no bees on the garden flowers, neither honey bees nor bumblebees. At one time you could be assured that cow parsley flowers would be teeming with flies, beetles and wasps, all vying for pollen and nectar. Not anymore. Yet the younger generation is largely unaware of this massive loss of biodiversity. The knock-on effect of the loss of pollinators has perhaps not yet been felt, though there are reports from China of workers having to hand-pollinate crops because the bees are no longer there.
The role of governments in regulating pesticides In the United States, pesticides are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has a duty to ensure the safety of pollinators and other beneficials. However, it appears to operate on a principle of innocent until proven guilty. The EPA has long known about the problems with imidacloprid and chlothionidin in Europe, but maintains, as does Bayer CropScience, that these actives are safe if used correctly. The persistent enquiries of Tom Theobald, the Colorado beekeeper, recently uncovered an internal EPA memo dated November 2010 which documented a change in status of one of Bayer CropScience’s submitted field trials on clothionidin from ‘acceptable’ to ‘supplementary’ (www.alternet.org/module/printversion/149150).
The EPA granted Bayer CropScience a conditional registration for clothianidin in 2003, despite the absence of a critical trial required to show safety to bees in the field. It took Bayer CropScience 3 years to conduct the trial, and the EPA another year to assess it, at which time they deemed it acceptable. Internal memos within the EPA showed scientists were concerned about the original trial protocol but it was approved anyway by the upper echelons. The National Resources Defence Council filed a lawsuit to examine the trials that Bayer CropScience had used to gain registration, succeeding finally in obtaining them. The disputed field trial was clearly inadequate and another trial has been requested, but this will not even be started until 2012. No rush then. Meanwhile, clothianidin was granted full registration by the EPA in 2010 and use continues unabated.
In March 2009, the California Department of Pesticides Regulation stepped into the fray, ordering a re-evaluation of four neonicotinoids following an adverse effects disclosure concerning imidacloprid. This follows finding high levels in leaves and blossoms and increases in residue levels over time. Bayer CropScience data indicated residues in soil remained relatively low for the first 6 months after application. However, there was then a dramatic increase in residue levels that remained stable for as many as 500 days after treatment. One step closer to that bulls-eye. In their recent review article (Johnson et al. 2010), the authors clearly indicate the inadequacies of traditional acute toxicity testing as the sole requirement for registration. This particularly relates to honey bees, whose genome is markedly deficient in the number of genes encoding detoxification enzymes. In other words, they are unable to detoxify even small doses, allowing the effects to accumulate over time.
In the UK, environmentalists and beekeepers have lobbied hard to persuade the UK government to ban neonicotinoids. The British Beekeepers Association itself has earned the ire of many beekeepers by not supporting a ban. Until last November, it received £17,500 a year from Bayer CropScience and Syngenta to endorse their pesticides with a ‘bee friendly’ logo, which is clearly a conflict of interest and relevant to our own concerns about undue influence.
The Buglife report has been criticised by Helen Thompson, UK Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), who claims that there is no evidence of any association between neonicotinoids and bee deaths in the UK, in fact, no evidence of CCD. She maintained that the studies required are constantly being reviewed by various regulatory agencies in the UK and Europe. In a recent rebuttal, she did not refer to Tennekes’ 2010 paper in Toxicology or his book. DEFRA, the regulatory agency in the UK, also states that there is insufficient evidence for withdrawing neonicotinoids. The UK government at the time of writing has taken no action, despite several representations to Parliament.
The Co-op, a major UK supermarket chain with 28,000 hectares under cultivation in the UK, banned usage of eight neonicotinoids on its own farms in 2009, and has since extended it to its suppliers. The European Union is undertaking a review of neonicotinoids and the type of trials that are needed to properly assess the new classes of pesticides. The Green Party in New Zealand launched a petition in May this year calling on the NZ Government to suspend use of neonicotinoids, while the Federal Farmers opposed any need to even conduct an investigation. The NZ Government is taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. Australia’s pesticide regulator, the APVMA, takes a similar position. It does not have the resources that the EPA and DEFRA have at their disposal, but an APVMA spokesman stated that the agency follows internationally observed OECD guidelines, and keeps informed through attendance at international conferences and regular contact with other regulators.
[Photo] Drift from an air-blast sprayer can travel well outside the targeted spray zone.
It’s not difficult to see how environmental contamination can occur.
Changing the requirements for pesticide regulation The system that is currently in place in most countries to regulate pesticides is driven by the needs of the end users. For all the talk about environmental safety, the precautionary principle is not operating here. A pesticide label stating in small print somewhere that the product is toxic to bees and aquatic life, and not to spray during crop flowering or near water, is next to useless. It will do little to affect its selection by the user, and will in any case not change the outcome. There is no way, with a systemic pesticide that moves into all parts of the plant, including flowers, is persistent in the environment for many seasons and can move in groundwater, that it will not be picked up by bees and other wildlife. The label warning, which must be specifically searched for (unless you know growers who read all the fine print and not just the application rate) should not be a ‘get out of gaol free’ card for either the regulator or the pesticide company.
So why do governments persist in maintaining registrations despite mounting evidence of serious environmental harm? While many people are jaded enough to claim pesticide companies are running the government, the fact is that the agricultural lobby is itself very influential. You have only to look at the case of Movento in the US to see where the real power lies. The beekeepers were concerned because Movento is reportedly toxic to bee larvae and is also systemic. It was de-registered by the EPA in April 2010 following a Federal Court ruling on a technicality, but in October it was re-registered following over 100 submissions in its favour. Many of these represented large agricultural organisations. The agricultural lobby is much stronger than the environmental and beekeeper lobby, and will support the pesticide company. Ironically, it was the precautionary principle that was quoted by our Federal government in 2007 to ban bumblebees from being brought onto the mainland to pollinate greenhouse tomato crops, in case they caused harm to native bees. This from the same government that is prepared to allow vast tracts of land to be routinely treated with pesticides known to be highly toxic to the same bees, not to mention many other forms of wildlife.
Farmers are now very dependent on pesticides, or at least they think they are. A common claim by pesticide companies, and sometimes regulators, is that removing neonicotinoids will compromise maximum crop production and result in a return to more toxic broad spectrum pesticides. Bees, birds and other wildlife are presumably acceptable collateral damage. The European Union is a strong advocate of IPM, which doesn’t sit well with the idea that we should kill everything in the pursuit of greater yields, not to mention greater corporate profits. Farmers have become pesticide junkies. For many broadacre crops, almost 100% of seed is pre-treated with pesticide. You can’t buy seed without it. Pesticide is being applied as a precaution against pests and diseases (and weeds, for that matter). It is the complete antithesis of IPM, which advocates a multi-pronged approach, with pesticides only to be applied as a last resort and only as needed.
Bayer CropScience supports IPM? Bah humbug. Broad scale use of pesticides ensures that not only are pests killed, but also all susceptible natural enemies and pollinators, not just honey bees. The farmer is then certainly dependent on the pesticide, because natural checks and balances have been destroyed. Whatever small inroads IPM was making are being rapidly eroded.
Targeted application and new age, so-called environmentally friendly pesticides were supposed to avoid all the problems that broad spectrum pesticides like organochlorines, organophosphates and pyrethroids caused. Perhaps that was the intention, but it isn’t working out the way it was supposed to. Clear signs of impending trouble have been present since the early 1990s, and should have triggered independent regulatory oversight. Hindsight is telling us that the tests designed to show safety are not suited to evaluating systemic pesticides, nor those with sub-lethal or chronic effects. In particular, they are not suitable for evaluating effects on life stages other than the adult. It’s hardly safe when short-term tests show an active is safe for the adult stage but prevents egg laying or kills larvae.
There is talk among regulators in Canada, Europe, the US and other countries about which additional tests might be appropriate, but agreement looks like it will take years. Meanwhile, the same pesticides causing concern are still being used.
Increasingly, the side-effects on arthropods other than bees are being queried. Where once bug accumulation on windshields was the norm, people are noticing that this is no longer occurring. The preservation of bugs from annihilation on windshields may have few devotees, but their lack may be indicative of a much wider malaise. An area little considered in the debate about honey bees and neonicotinoids are examples from the greenhouse industry.
There is quite an extensive literature on the side-effects of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bees (mostly bumblebees) and natural enemies. The International Organisation for Biological and Integrated Control of Noxious Animals and Plants (IOBC)(http://www.iobc-wprs.org/) has an Expert Working Group on Pesticides and Beneficial Organisms, dedicated to evaluating the side-effects of pesticides. It has many publications. You might think of greenhouses as small field experiments. Some papers have been reviewed recently by Cloyd & Bethke (2010), but key studies are missing. The long-term effects of imidacloprid on the parasitoid Encarsia formosa, for example, are known to last for months when applied as a soil drench. We and Dr Paul Horne, IPM Technologies, Victoria, have also conducted relevant side-effects studies (Horne et al. 2009). Paul said that the work he has carried out so far is only a starting point, but he has had his funding cut off. Charts of side-effects of pesticides on natural enemies in greenhouses are compiled by Koppert BV, Biobest, Australasian Biological Control and other companies marketing natural enemies, and can be accessed on their websites.
White-collared ladybird, Hippodamia variegata/ Poor ladybirds, poor world!
Testing for regulatory purposes is being carried out by pesticide companies on very few natural enemies, and these may not be present in the country in which the product is to be registered. As our own and Paul Horne’s experiments clearly demonstrate, even different types of ladybirds or mites may show quite different sensitivity to a single pesticide. It’s not possible to test all combinations, but a far broader range of key indicator species in each country needs to be included in mandatory testing. Needless to say, we support the use of selective pesticides with proven IPM credentials, but they will clearly not have the same money-making potential as broad-spectrum, persistent products, and are likely to remain a small part of a pesticide company’s stable unless serious pressure is brought to bear.
We have talked a great deal about honey bees, which at least have an advocate in beekeepers and, to a more limited extent, farmers with crops which require pollination.
Attention now needs to be directed to other pollinators and arthropods in general, and the claims made in Tennekes’ book seriously explored. The ramifications are enormous, and effects will cascade. As with climate change, the self-interest of multinational conglomerates (and politicians) is working against the urgent changes needed. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for the pesticide manufaturers. In a recent paper (Jeschke et al. 2011), Bayer scientists in Germany, in their overview of the status and global strategy for neonicotinoids, state that: “Because of the relatively low risk for non-target organisms and the environment, the high target specificity of neonicotinoid insecticides, and their versatility in application methods, this important class has to be maintained globally for integrated pest management strategies and insect resistance management programs.”
About the authors Stephen Goodwin and Marilyn Steiner are IPM consultants trading as Biocontrol Solutions at Mangrove Mountain. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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