Science-free wildlife death traps

May 2017

Documents from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in early 2017 show that almost 100% of GM corn is pre-treated with neonicotinoid insecticides. In addition, although the EPA has concluded that neonicotinoid seed treatments have no economic benefit to soya growers, incomplete data indicate that over 50% of soya beans are also coated with the insecticide.

Neonicotinoids, of which there are several brands and classes on the market, are used as seed coatings. They end up throughout the mature plant, its flowers, pollen and nectar, and 95% of the coatings spread through the wider environment including soil water and dust in the air. UK trials have found that at least one neonictinoid accumulates in the soil with increasing toxicity over several years.

Across America, tens of millions of acres of land are planted with corn or soya (often year about), each producing its own fresh wave of neonicotinoids.

Risks to insects which aren't pests and to biodiversity from these seed treatments have been well-aired in the media [1]. In particular, our vanishing bees along with vanishing honey supplies and failing bee-pollinated food crops are major concerns.

Yet, no co-ordinated action has been taken by regulators to rescue the situation. The reason for this is, of course, that the agri-industry is making too much money from selling low-spray crops to eager farmers. Regulators are lobbied much more successfully by Big Ag than they are by bees or cash-strapped environmentalists.

Science continues to throw up alarming evidence of what neonicotinoids do to bees [2]. However, science is easily converted to alternative truth by industry. For example, Swiss scientist, Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, has been treading so firmly on biotech industry toes over the threat of Bt insecticidal GM crops to beneficial insects that she's become used to looking over her shoulder. Whatever damning scientific evidence she publishes, the biotech industry rushes out a study 'demonstrating' the reverse. She refers to them as "my little stalkers" and comments
"We (scientists) shouldn't be running into all kinds of obstacles and face all this comprehensive mobbing just doing what we're supposed to do". 
Biotech giant Syngenta was quick to dangle research funding in front of one UK university researcher whose initial research led him to believe that concerns about pesticides were overblown. The British government ranks universities on how useful their work is to industry and society, and ties government grants to such assessments. This meant he was "pressured enormously by (his) university to take that money". When his research failed to support Syngenta's required finding that bee die-off is being caused, not by neonicotinoids, but by varroosis infection, the Company suggested he 'refocus' his project to generate an alternative outcome. The conflicting interests and the resulting controversy he got caught up in, led the scientist to a breakdown.

One journalist for the New York Times summed up the modern scientific mess we've got ourselves into very nicely
"Scientists deliver outcomes favorable to companies, while university research departments court corporate support. Universities and regulators sacrifice full autonomy by signing confidentiality agreements. And academics sometime double as paid consultants." 
The dying bees don't stand a chance.

So, while the system is rigged to ensure scientists do what they're paid to do and not what they're trained to do, and industry knows how to manipulate the system, what is actually happening in the fields?

Until now, the Government's main solution to the bee crisis has been to pay farmers a small chunk of EU money towards 'helping' wildlife by creating flower-rich habitats in the field margins and hedgerows next to crops. The premise is that pollinator exposure to neonicotinoids would occur only during the flowering period of the crop and would be diluted by bees foraging on wildflowers.

However, after decades of herbicide drift and fertiliser runoff, field margins are dominated by the few plant species which can thrive in such adverse conditions, such as coarse grasses, nettles, docks and hogweed. These don't provide the season-long succession of flowers our pollinators need.

The Soil Association was alarmed when its tests on honey and pollen in hives and bumblebee nests placed on arable farms found a cocktail of pesticides, some of which act synergistically to make them more toxic.

This led the Association to perform a study which no industry- or government-sponsored scientist is going to be paid to do. They painstakingly collected pollen and nectar by hand from the few flowers growing in hedgerows on farms and analysed them for pesticide levels.

Some plants had nothing, while other plants had very high concentrations, higher even than those found in the crop.

The vast majority (97%) of neonicotinoids brought back to honey bee hives was from wildflowers, not from the crops.

It looks like our wild-life 'sanctuaries' are death-traps.

WHAT YOU CAN DO


For more information on the secret poisoning of our countryside, and action to address the mess, check out www.soilassociation.org/our-campaigns/ban-neonics/ 



Background

[1] ANSWER TO BEE DIE-OFF? - June 2015
[2] ANOTHER NEUROTOXIN TO AD TO THE MIX - March 2015

SOURCES:
  • Danny Hakim, Scientists Loved and Loathed by an Agrochemical Giant, New York Times, 31.12.16
  • New US EPA documents detail extensive use of neonic seed coatings, GM Watch 18.02.17
  • Prof. Dave Goulson, The Toxic Bouquet, Living Earth, Spring 2016
  • Emma Hockridge (Head of Policy, Soil Association), A closer look at the new research, Living Earth, Spring 2016
  • Peter Melchett (Policy Director, Soil Association), The secret poisoning of Britain's hedgerows, Living Earth, Spring 2016
  • Scientific briefing on impact of neonics, Soil Association, 28.04.16
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