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Congressional Briefing on Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Human HealthThis Week
American Congressional Briefing:
The Threat of Neonicotinoid Pesticides to Bees and Other Organisms, and the Risks to Human Health
Rayburn House Office Building B318, Washington DC
September 18, 2014
9:30AM to 11AM
Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides, meaning they are taken up by all tissues and fluids of treated plants, including nectar and pollen, and in food produced by these plants. A large body of scientific evidence has linked neonicotinoids to Bee Colony Collapse Disorder, a widespread and massive die-off of honeybees over the past decade in the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world, evidence so compelling that the European Union has banned the three most commonly used neonicotinoids.
It has now become clear that these water-soluble, long-lived neurotoxins, the world’s most widely used insecticides, are also toxic to bumblebees and other pollinators, and to birds, earthworms, and many other organisms. And given that neonicotinoids have been shown to be present in surface waters (by the USGS), ground water (reported by the EPA), and in our food (by the USDA), and that they have been shown to disrupt nerve cell activity in mammals, there are major concerns that they may have significant human health impacts as well, particularly for developing nervous systems in infants and children.
This briefing, sponsored by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University’s School of Public Health’s Milken Institute, will review the latest science on neonicotinoids.
The following will speak:
Eric Chivian M.D.—Director, The Program for Preserving the Natural World. Founder and Former Director, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard School of Public Health.
Chensheng (Alex) Lu Ph.D.—Associate Professor of Environmental Exposure Biology, Harvard School of Public Health.
Melissa Perry Ph.D.—Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Milken Institute, George Washington University School of Public Health. President-elect, American College of Epidemiology.
Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR 3rd District)—Co-Author of the “Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2013”
The briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP is required.
For more information, please contact:
Tracy Sachs email@example.com
Kallista Bernal firstname.lastname@example.org
New Pollinator Bill Helps Pesticide Industry, Not Bees or Beekeepers
September 12, 2013 (Washington, DC)—Center for Food Safety today expressed concerns with a bill that could derail positive efforts already underway in Congress and the White House to improve pollinator health. The purposefully narrow and limiting bill, H.R. 5447, was introduced by Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) and would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to push for faster approval of pesticides to control “parasitic pests,” such as the varroa mite.
“Fast-tracking pesticide approvals is what got us into this mess in the first place and focusing strictly on varroa mites will not get us out,” said Larissa Walker, pollinator campaign director for Center for Food Safety. “Congress cannot ignore every other key factor in pollinator declines, particularly the pesticides known to damage their health, and expect to solve this crisis.”
While varroa mites are one of several factors impacting honey bee health, beekeepers and scientists have consistently pointed a finger at pesticides such as neonicotinoids as a primary culprit in honey bee and other pollinator declines.
“There is already a robust bill in Congress, with support from beekeepers, aimed at addressing the full spectrum of stressors impacting pollinator health. It would be a shame if this new bill distracted attention away from it and let the pesticide industry off the hook,” said Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs.
In April, a House Agriculture Subcommittee held a hearing solely focused on varroa. The panel of witnesses included a representative of Bayer but no one from the beekeeping industry. Beekeepers have been adamant in their demands to curtail pesticide use in order to preserve their industry and protect the food supply.
“Beekeepers do not consider mites as the top problem, and many like myself find it a non-issue. Pesticides are still the number one issue for all beekeepers,” said New York beekeeper Jim Doan.
Speaking at the hearing, USDA official Jeff Pettis testified, “But even if the varroa mite problem were solved today, this would not by itself solve all of the problems facing honey bees and beekeepers.”
In July 2013, Representatives John Conyers and Earl Blumenauer introduced the “Saving America’s Pollinators Act,” (HR 2692), which would suspend the use of four of the most toxic neonicotinoid chemicals until the Environmental Protection Agency conducts a full review of their safety and can make an informed and scientifically-sound decision about their use.
In June, the White House released instructions to all federal agencies spelling out a comprehensive plan to deal with the urgent crisis facing honey bees and other pollinators. The memorandum specifically called on EPA to assess the risks of pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids.
For more on the history of neonicotinoids and the problems with EPA’s approval process, go here.
Bacteria from bees possible alternative to antibiotics
Date: September 8, 2014
Source: Lund University
Raw honey has been used against infections for millennia, before honey -- as we now know it -- was manufactured and sold in stores. So what is the key to its' antimicrobial properties? Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have identified a unique group of 13 lactic acid bacteria found in fresh honey, from the honey stomach of bees. The bacteria produce a myriad of active antimicrobial compounds.
These lactic acid bacteria have now been tested on severe human wound pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Pseudomonas aeruginosa and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), among others. When the lactic acid bacteria were applied to the pathogens in the laboratory, it counteracted all of them.
While the effect on human bacteria has only been tested in a lab environment thus far, the lactic acid bacteria has been applied directly to horses with persistent wounds. The LAB was mixed with honey and applied to ten horses; where the owners had tried several other methods to no avail. All of the horses' wounds were healed by the mixture.
The researchers believe the secret to the strong results lie in the broad spectrum of active substances involved.
"Antibiotics are mostly one active substance, effective against only a narrow spectrum of bacteria. When used alive, these 13 lactic acid bacteria produce the right kind of antimicrobial compounds as needed, depending on the threat. It seems to have worked well for millions of years of protecting bees' health and honey against other harmful microorganisms. However, since store-bought honey doesn't contain the living lactic acid bacteria, many of its unique properties have been lost in recent times," explains Tobias Olofsson.
The next step is further studies to investigate wider clinical use against topical human infections as well as on animals.
The findings have implications for developing countries, where fresh honey is easily available, but also for Western countries where antibiotic resistance is seriously increasing.
The above story is based on materials provided by Lund University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
Scotland: Pesticide Ban Call to Save Bees
MSPs have called on ministers to ban certain pesticides during a Holyrood debate on the plight of bees.
SNP MSP Angus MacDonald tabled a motion calling for action to "reduce pesticides that harm pollinators".
The Scottish Wildlife Trust believes pesticides known as neonicotinoids are partly to blame for a 60% decline in the bumblebee population.
The Scottish government said it was adopting a "precautionary approach" pending more research.
The trust said there had been a 60% decline in the number of bumblebees in the past 50 years and other important pollinators including hoverflies and butterflies were under threat.
Species such as the great yellow bumblebee have become rarer and confined to the north and west of Scotland while butterflies such as the marsh fritillary and the pearl bordered fritillary had also dwindled, it said.
Mr MacDonald's motion in parliament backed a call from the campaign group Buglife for "the Scottish government to develop and implement action plans, coordinate pollinator monitoring programmes, reduce pesticides that harm pollinators and conserve pollinator species while maintaining places for pollinators to feed and breed".
The Liberal Democrat SNP for Orkney, Liam McArthur, said: "Loss of habitat, use of pesticides and insect disease are all thought to be factors in this decline.
"However, as islands we have a unique opportunity to put in place more effective measures to protect our bee populations.
"As well as supporting further research into pesticides that are less harmful to pollinators, I want to see steps taken to restrict the import of bees and hives into Orkney.
"Given the devastating impact that the varroa mite has had on bee numbers in Orkney and elsewhere, even a voluntary ban would go some way to providing much needed extra protection."
The varroa mite, a parasite which feeds off a bee's blood, has been associated with the decline of honeybee populations worldwide.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust has begun a number of initiatives including the creation of a "nectar network" between Troon and Irvine in Ayrshire by planting wildflowers to connect habitats for wild pollinators.
Head of policy, Dr Maggie Keegan, said: "The trust believes the decline in wild pollinators and honeybees may act like the 'canary in the mine' - indicating that Scotland's landscapes and ecosystems are not being managed sustainably.
"Everyone can do their bit to help these wonderful creatures recover by creating a window box and planting wildflowers in the garden, but it is vital we tackle this issue at the landscape-scale to create a 'nectar network' across Scotland.
"The trust hopes this debate converts words into action from the Scottish government.
"At the very least, the trust would like to see the Scottish government commit to banning harmful pesticides such as neonicotinoids outright and supporting research into pollinators and low-pesticide farming systems."
A Scottish government spokesman said it was "committed to taking a precautionary approach on the use of neonicotinoids".
The spokesman added: "It is essential, given concerns that have been expressed about the efficiency of previous Defra funded field trials, that we await further research that clearly and properly demonstrates the nature and extent of risk that neonicotinoids pose to bees, and other pollinators, when they are foraging."
Canadian beekeepers sue Bayer and Syngenta over neonicotinoid pesticides
Class action lawsuit seeks $400 million in damages
Posted: Sep 03, 2014
Canadian beekeepers are suing the makers of popular crop pesticides for more than $400 million in damages, alleging that their use is causing the deaths of bee colonies.
The proposed class action lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the Ontario Superior Court on behalf of all Canadian beekeepers by Sun Parlor Honey Ltd. and Munro Honey, two of Ontario's largest honey producers, the Ontario Beekeepers Association announced Wednesday.
"The goal is to stop the use of the neonicotinoids to stop the harm to the bees and the beekeepers," said Paula Lombardi, a lawyer with London, Ont.-based law firm Siskinds LLP, which is handling the case.
As of Thursday morning, more than 30 beekeepers had signed on to participate in the class action.
Read the statement of claim
The lawsuit alleges that Bayer Cropscience Inc. and Syngenta Canada Inc. and their parent companies were negligent in their design, manufacture, sale and distribution of neonicotinoid pesticides, specifically those containing imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiomethoxam.
The pesticides, which are a neurotoxin to insects, are widely coated on corn, soybean and canola seeds in Canada to protect the plants from pests such as aphids. Studies have shown that bees exposed to the pesticides have smaller colonies, fail to return to their hives, and may have trouble navigating. The pesticides were also found in 70 per cent of dead bees tested by Health Canada in 2013.
Bee researchers raise more warning flags about neonicotinoid pesticides
The European Commission restricted the use of the pesticides for two years and Ontario has indicated it will move toward regulating them, due to concerns over bee health.
Bayer maintains that the risk to bees from the pesticide is low, and it has recommended ways that farmers can minimize bees' exposure to the pesticide.
Both Bayer and Syngenta told CBC News they wouldn't comment on the lawsuit because they haven't yet been served with it.
The lawsuit is seeking more than $400 million in damages, alleging that as a result of neonicotinoid use:
The beekeepers' colonies and breeding stock were damaged or died.
Their beeswax, honeycombs and hives were contaminated.
Their honey production decreased.
They lost profits and incurred unrecoverable costs, such as increased labour and supply costs.
Beekeepers or companies involved in beekeeping services such as honey production, queen bee rearing and pollination who are affected and want to join the lawsuit are asked to contact Lombardi.
The Ontario Beekeepers Association is not directly involved in the lawsuit, but along with the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, the research for the lawsuit.
Bees at the Brink
Fields of Green, A Desert For Bees
Story by Josephine Marcotty
Farmers such as Gary Schrad (above) have few alternatives to the high-tech seeds that produce big crops — but also create an unhealthy landscape for bees.
ALBERT LEA, MINN. | Third in an occasional series
Mac Ehrhardt often feels like he has one leg on either side of a barbed-wire fence. On one side stand the farmers who have bought seed from his family’s business for three generations, and who rely religiously on insecticides to protect their crops. On the other is Ehrhardt’s growing conviction that southern Minnesota’s two-tone landscape of corn and soybeans has become a barren and toxic place for a crucial player in the nation’s food system — the honeybee.
Ehrhardt’s uncomfortable position at the Albert Lea Seed Company reflects the powerful role that farmers could play in the plight of the bees. Though they represent just 2 percent of Minnesota’s population, farmers control half its land. And their embrace of the monocultures and pesticides that form the basis of modern industrial agriculture has been implicated in the decline of bees and pollinators.
But as long as farmers sit at the receiving end of an agri-chemical pipeline that fuels the nation’s rural economy, not much is likely to change, he said.
“No one in this county is getting paid for growing bee-friendly corn,” Ehrhardt said. Organic farmers might ask why use chemicals at all, he added. “I respect that. But out here in farm country, that’s not what’s happening.”
The modern farmer
Gary Schrad, one of Ehrhardt’s customers, doesn’t farm the way his father did.
There was a time when farmers would plant their crop, harvest it, and then save some of the seed — or buy a neighbor’s seed — to plant the next year’s crop.
Now, most of the seed Schrad plants on his 3,500 acres comes from corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta, and they come embedded with astonishing genetics. One type of gene makes corn, soybeans and other crops immune to herbicides, including Roundup, allowing farmers to kill weeds at will without killing their crops.
As a result, weeds and wildflowers between the rows are sparse — leaving bees and butterflies to forage in the smaller and smaller areas that are left: state parks, wildlife preserves and tiny strips of land between the roads and the fields.
Another added gene makes the plants themselves poisonous to insects such as corn rootworm that are the bane of farmers. But it’s not foolproof against all insects.
The solution? A new class of insecticides first introduced in 1994 that is relatively harmless to people and animals — neonicotinoids. Now added routinely as a coating on seeds, neonicotinoids provide additional insurance against soil pests. And, like the genetic traits, they become an intrinsic part of the plant as it grows.
“It started in 2002,” said Chuck Benbrook, a professor who studies sustainable agricultural systems at Washington University. “By 2006 neonicotinoids had cornered the market.”
Today, genetically engineered crops dominate agriculture, and two-thirds of the world’s cropland gets a regular dose of neonicotinoids, including 90 percent of corn and 60 percent of soybean acres.
Farmers, in fact, have few options. The highly complex seed combinations they find on the market are determined by interwoven licensing agreements among the companies that control the seeds and the companies that make the insecticides. Often they are one and the same. Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, for example, sell seeds and make some of the most widely used neonicotinoids. Monsanto, the world’s leading seed company, uses Bayer’s neonicotinoids on some of its leading genetically altered seeds. Monsanto also developed the herbicide Roundup, as well as the genetically engineered seeds that are resistant to it.
When it comes time to buy seed, farmers have a dwindling number of alternatives. Three corporations control more than half of the world’s commercial seed market, and the top 10 control three-fourths, according to ETC Group, a Canadian nonprofit that tracks emerging technologies. No one can grow patented GMO seeds. If they do, they’ll get sued by the companies that own the patents.
“The fact is, the vast majority of farmers have no choice but to go down the road that the seed biotech industry has decided to lead them,” Benbrook said. “The farmer can’t go to the dealer and say: ‘Hold the Roundup Ready gene.’ It’s not the pickle on the hamburger.”
It’s a costly package deal. A standard bag of GMO seed corn, pre-treated with insecticides and fungicides, enough to plant two acres, costs $300 or more, compared with about $120 for non-engineered corn that usually comes with the same kinds of coatings. That price alone provides a powerful incentive for farmers not to question the relatively low-cost neonicotinoid coating that comes with it.
“The more you can protect the seed, the better the return for that acre of ground,” Schrad said. “Every seed company and every farmer has an interest in that.”
In August, the dense green and gold fields of southern Minnesota roll to the horizon in all directions, a testament to the success of all that biotechnology. The GMO seeds Schrad uses have greatly reduced the need for older insecticides, some of them extremely toxic to people.
But the amount of land devoted to those seeds has exploded. Today in Minnesota, about 24,000 square miles — a third of the state — are devoted to growing either corn or soybeans.
“This,” Schrad said, waving an arm toward a wall of his head-high corn, “is what … Minnesota is.”
Bees pay the price
Bees, however, may be paying a high price of their own. In 2006, beekeepers began raising the alarm about neonicotinoids after they noticed a sudden and inexplicable collapse of their colonies over winter. They used to lose 10 percent of their bees in the cold months, building their hives back up in the summer. But in the past decade, average hive losses of 25 to 30 percent have become routine, a decline that many say is not sustainable for their businesses — or the $15 billion a year in food crops that rely on bees for pollination.
Bayer CropScience, Monsanto and others in agribusiness say there is no evidence that neonicotinoids are to blame. Years of research went into their development, including studies that concluded the low doses bees encounter as they forage for pollen and nectar are insufficient to kill them, company officials say.
Yet beekeepers, environmentalists and many scientists are raising a growing chorus of disagreement. Dozens of studies have now found that low doses of neonicotinoids may not kill bees outright, but can cripple their highly sophisticated navigational and communication skills, and hamper a queen’s reproduction. Scientists have also warned that crops take up only a small portion of the insecticide, leaving the rest behind in the soil. If the toxins spread from fields into streams and wetlands, they may ripple through the food system from aquatic insects to birds and beyond, they say.
Some scientists and environmental groups now compare the history of neonicotinoids to that of DDT, the long-banned insecticide that decimated bird populations and inspired Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring.”
Like DDT, “It really appeared to be a boon,” said University of Minnesota entomologist Ian MacRae. “But now we are beginning to see the downside of its chemistry.”
Still, entomologists and federal regulators say, the case against agricultural neonicotinoids is not settled. Bees encounter many different insecticides while foraging in millions of flowers and blooming trees. They live for only six weeks and are very efficient at detoxifying their colonies, bee scientists say. They also suffer from invasive parasites, a multitude of diseases and a less nutritious diet of sugar water and artificial pollen that many commercial beekeepers have adopted because of the Midwest’s increasingly flowerless landscape.
In short, though some scientists are beginning to link neonicotinoids to the decline of the honeybee, the precise effect remains elusive.
“We know half the equation,” said Bob Koch, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota who works with farmers. “We don’t know what bees are experiencing from crops.”
And that’s precisely what chemical companies and many farmers say they want to know.
“These insecticides go through a tremendous amount of regulation and testing before they are put on the market,” Schrad said. “That same type of testing and research should be done before they are pulled from the market.”
What is clear is that neonicotinoids are overused, say agricultural entomologists.
Many of the soil pests they were designed to thwart show up in less than 5 percent of the fields, said Bruce Potter, a pest management specialist at the University of Minnesota's extension service.
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