Syngenta has petitioned the USA EPA to allow an increased level of a neonicotinoid pesticide in certain crop residues, including sweet corn, alfalfa, barley and wheat. Up to 400 times more. Why? And is that necessarily a Bad Thing?
Neonicotinoids pesticides (neonics) have been blamed in many scientific studies for causing damage to bees, either by interfering with their navigation systems, or reducing their resistance to viruses and bacteria. Increased use of neonics during the past decade (which has, in turn, greatly increased crop yields) has been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder, the sudden and unexplained loss of a whole bee colony. In the USA, over half of all managed bee colonies have disappeared in the past 10 years. As a result, neonics have temporary bans in some US states and the EU.
Neonics are currently used as a seed treatment, which means that as the plant grows, all parts of it carry the neonic pesticide. Foraging bees are vulnerable when they ingest pollen carrying the neonic.
Although Syngenta has rejected much of the research linking neonics to CCD, its petition to the USA EPA would allow it to change to a leaf spraying treatment on specific crops using the neonic thiamethoxam. Because leaf sprays tend to stick to the leaf rather than the way a seed treatment translocates through the whole plant, Syngenta says that bees are less likely to be affected. However this means that there would be higher pesticide residues in both the crop and the leftover residue after harvesting, hence the need for a higher residue allowance from the EPA. Although the petition asks for increases up to 400 times, this is only on hay made from wheat – most are much less, like only 1.5 times.
Anything that reduces bee exposure to neonics when farmers are clearly going to keep on using them, as they are so important in maintaining crop yields, has to be A Good Thing. However, apart from concerns about neonic use in general, spraying a crop like alfalfa (lucerne) is of particular worry. Although alfalfa is routinely harvested before flowering, there’s always the risk of overspray potentially covering alfalfa growing outside the harvested area, and other nearby flowering plants where bees might be foraging.
The USA EPA is accepting comments on the proposed changes, as well as amended tolerances for several other pesticides, until October 6, 2014 through the Federal eRulemaking Portal. This requires you to submit information about the petition number etc, which you can find out here.
[NOTE – sadly, in true scaremongering style, petitions calling for people to rally against this Syngenta application are not telling all the facts in their campaign, like that many of the residues increases sought are only 1.5 times. When I first heard about this one from SumOfUs in an email from a friend, the email, titled ‘A Death Sentence for Bees’ said:
You’ll notice that this changes the way the increase is described, from ‘400 times’ (as it was originally described in the source cited by SumOfUs) to 4,000%, as of course this sounds much, much bigger and scarier. But imagine my surprise when I went to the SumOfUs website to find that things had gone up by a another factor of 10.