By Jennifer Wilson-Pines
While all pesticides are damaging to the environment, Neonicotinoids (neonics) are particularly insidious. The neonics are a class of several related pesticides that have been implicated in deaths of honeybees and the ongoing insect armageddon.
Because of this, several have been banned in Europe and some U.S. states. Bills have been introduced in the New York State Senate and Assembly, The Birds and Bees Protection Act (A7429-Englebright/S699B-Hoylman) which will ban neonic-treated corn, soybean, and wheat seeds and non-agricultural, turf and ornamental uses.
Neonics are primarily used as seed coatings – almost all corn and soybeans receive this treatment. That might sound safe, but as the seed grows, the toxic compounds travel through the plant into the pollen, nectar, and sap.
They can also migrate into the surrounding soil and water, spreading the contamination. The plants poison bees, other insects and birds that consume their pollen and nectar.
Additionally, neonics applied to the root zone of trees or injected into tree trunks can remain at toxic concentrations for three or more years.
Another avenue of contamination is home gardens – neonic treated plants are sold in many nurseries. With more bees and pollinating insects relying on home gardens as open space diminishes, insects are increasingly coming into contact with neonics.
New York beekeepers lost over half of their hives last year, and that suggests similar losses for our 400 species of native bees. This threatens the state’s ecosystems and pollination to crops like apples, squash, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and pears.
The paradox is that insecticides to prevent insect damage to crops are killing the pollinators necessary for production of a third of fruit and vegetables in our grocery stores.
Since neonics were introduced in the 1990s, research has linked them to declines in U.S. bird species.
Eating just one neonic-treated seed is enough to kill some songbirds, and even at low doses, they can harm birds’ immune systems, fertility, and navigation, and cause rapid weight loss, reducing birds’ survival and reproduction. Neonics kill the insects that many bird species rely on for food.
Neonic contamination of water is harming fish and other wildlife. Neonics show up in 30% of Long Island groundwater testing samples, indicating a “very high probability” that the pesticides are causing “ecosystem-wide damage.”
Neonics kill aquatic insects that birds, fish, amphibians, and other animals depend upon for food. Neonic water contamination has also been linked to harm to bats and birth defects in white-tailed deer. Diminished trout, salmon, and wild bird populations threaten New York’s ecosystems and the tourism and recreation industries that depend on them.
These chemicals travel through the food web to us, with neonic residues found in common foods including kid’s favorites like apples, cherries, honey, and strawberries. The residues are within fruits and vegetables and are not removed by washing or peeling.
In studies of human exposure, developmental or neurological effects may include malformations of the developing heart and brain, autism spectrum disorder, and a cluster of symptoms including memory loss and finger tremors.
In a June 2020 report, Cornell University analyzed every published peer-reviewed study, 1,121 studies in total, on neonics harm to pollinators and the costs and benefits of neonics compared to alternatives.
The study revealed that the state’s largest and most harmful neonic uses provide little to no benefits to users or are easily replaceable with safer alternatives. The report found that neonic corn and soybean seed treatments which account for an estimated 73% of the neonics use in New York agriculture, posed “substantial” risks to bees and other pollinators, yet provide “no overall net income benefits” to farmers.
Other research shows that neonics can actually reduce yields by killing pollinators and good bugs.
You can support the Birds and Bees Protection Act by signing this petition today; https://act.nrdc.org/letter/6151-af-ny-bbpa 210923?source=anycoalition
and calling or writing your Senate and Assembly representatives to let them know you want them to support these bills.