Why Bees are Dying: Neonicotinoids
What Is Killing America's Bees and What Does It Mean for Us?
[...] Doan never really considered the possibility that the fault might not be his own until scientists at Penn State who had been testing his bees told him of news coming out of France that pointed the finger at a relatively new class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics. The first commercially successful neonicotinoid compound was synthesized by agrochemical giant Bayer CropScience in 1985, but it wasn't until the early 2000s that they began to be used extensively. Compared to older, more toxic insecticides, neonics certainly seemed to be a win-win: Though neurotoxins, they mess with insect brains far more than those of mammals, and their application is a breeze. All a farmer need do is sow a seed coated in neonics and the water-soluble chemicals get drawn back up into the plant as it grows. Referred to as systemic insecticides, they spread through the plant, making it resistant to predators. Neonics don't require repeated applications in a hazmat suit. Rain can't wash them away — but then again, neither can your kitchen faucet (unless you're eating strictly organic, you're eating neonicotinoids all the time).The EPA is doing nothing, is anyone surprised? And agribusiness is looking for new ways of pollinating without bees, or producing a genetically altered bee. Just what we need, Frankin Bees to go with our Frankinfoods.
Doan knew his hives had tested positive for the neonicotinoid clothianidin, but the results had seemed dubious because clothianidin wasn't even registered for use in New York state. That's when he learned that neonic-coated seeds weren't subject to the same regulations as sprayed pesticides, meaning that seeds couldn't be treated in New York, but they could be purchased elsewhere and then planted there, with no one the wiser. Furthermore, studies demonstrated that bees exposed to sublethal amounts of these neonicotinoids showed a loss in cognitive functions, including their ability to navigate home.
To Doan, this seemed like a breakthrough — a perfect explanation for why his bees hadn't just been dying, but disappearing altogether. He testified at the Environmental Protection Agency. He testified in front of Congress. He was interviewed for a Time magazine article on neonics in 2013, the very same year a report by the European Food Safety Authority showed "high acute risks" to bees from neonics and the European Union issued a ban on the three that are most widely used. Meanwhile, the Saving America's Pollinators Act, a congressional bill introduced in 2013 by Reps. John Conyers and Earl Blumenauer that would have taken neonics off the market until their safety was more definitively proven, never made it out of committee. (The bill was reintroduced this spring, but its fate remains uncertain.)
Doan waited expectantly for the EPA to step in and address the situation: "When I first started learning about this, I'm like, 'Well, the EPA's there to protect us. We don't have to worry about this, because the EPA's here to help.'"But as the years passed and the use of neonics spread, it started to seem that maybe the EPA wasn't there to help beekeepers after all. To Doan, the mystery of colony collapse disorder deepened. He no longer wondered what was killing his bees; he wondered why steps weren't being taken to save them. [...]
The bee's aren't affected by the toxin immediately, the effects only start to show up 3 months later. The bees become confused, their cognitive functioning is impaired, and they can't find their way home to the hive. They can't function, and the hive dies.
And since the insecticide is systemic to the plants, we are eating it as well. What are the long term side effects of that? If it does this to bees, what would long term exposure do to people?
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