Yesterday, the Obama administration released its long awaited National Pollinator Health Strategy, a requirement of a presidential memorandum released last June, which directed federal agencies to establish a Pollinator Health Task Force, develop a strategy to protect pollinators and charged the EPA with assessing the effects of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bees and other pollinators within 180 days. While it’s promising that the administration acknowledges the importance of protecting bees and other pollinators, the plan not only missed its 180 day release date, it also missed the mark in addressing one of the leading drivers of unsustainable bee losses—neonicotinoid insecticides.
A strong and growing body of science is telling us that neonicotinoids (neonics), the fastest growing class of pesticides in history and now the most widely used class of insecticides in the world, are a key contributor to the bee crisis and something we can fix now.
Last year, an international group of independent scientists released a meta analysis of 1,121 peer-reviewed studies which confirmed neonics aren’t just harming bees – they are harming entire ecosystems and organisms essential to food production, including soil microbes, butterflies, earthworms, reptiles, and birds, and they called for immediate regulatory action. The European Academies Science Advisory Councilfound there is more evidence that widespread use of neonicotinoids has severe effects on a range of organisms that provide ecosystem services like pollination and natural pest control, as well as on biodiversity. New Castle University recently found bees might actually be addicted to these pesticides and recommended reducing pesticide use “may be the only certain way” to halt bee and pollinator decline.
It’s clear these pesticides aren’t compatible with reversing unsustainable pollinator losses. This past year beekeepers lost 42 percent of their colonies, which is the second highest annual loss recorded to date. However, neonics are widely used in agriculture — as a seed coating on over 140 crops —and for cosmetic use in landscapes and gardens. The pesticides are toxic to bees, long-lived, and systemic—meaning they move through the plant—and are in pollen. They have four strikes against them.