Bill to reinstate Obama pesticide ban ignores science

House legislation to ban neonicotinoids in wildlife refuges would hurt bees and wildlife

Paul Driessen

The battle over neonicotinoid pesticides rages on. In response to one of many collusive sue-and-settle lawsuits between environmentalist groups and Obama environmental officials, in 2014 the Department of the Interior’s Fish & Wildlife Service banned neonic use in wildlife refuges.

Following a careful review of extensive scientific studies, the Trump Interior Department concluded that neonics are safe for humans, bees, other wildlife and the environment. In August 2018 it reversed the ban.

Last month, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) introduced HB2854, to reinstate the ban via legislation. She and 21 cosponsors (all Democrats) say neonics threaten biodiversity, bees and other wildlife in the nation’s refuges. Anti-pesticide groups have rallied behind the bill.

Their efforts are misguided and based on bad, outdated or even dishonest information.

Neonicotinoids are the world’s most widely used insecticide class. As I have noted in previous articles (here, here and here, for example), these systemic, advanced-technology insecticides are sprayed on many fruits and vegetables. But some 90% of them are used as seed coatings for corn, wheat, canola, soybeans, cotton and similar crops. Either way, they are absorbed into plant tissues as crops grow.

Neonics protect plants against insect damage by effectively targeting only pests that actually feed on the crops, particularly during early growth stages. Since they don’t wash off, they reduce the need for multiple sprays with insecticides that truly can harm bees, birds, other animals and non-pest insects.

Moreover, because neonics from coated seeds have largely dissipated from plant tissues by the time mature plants flower, they are barely detectable in pollen and nectar. That explains why extensive studies have found that neonic residues are well below levels that actually can adversely affect bee development or reproduction under real-world (non-laboratory) conditions.

It also helps explain why annual surveys and studies continue to show steady beehive and honeybee population increases since the infamous “colony collapse disorder” and “bee-pocalypse crisis” of a few years ago.

While over-winter and summer losses are still troublesome in places, they now occur overwhelmingly in hobbyist hives. Professional beekeepers, who handle the vast majority of US bees and hives, have learned how to control what was really, or primarily, behind the worrisome honeybee losses: Varroa destructor mites that arrived in the USA in 1987.

Bee larvae hatch with Varroa mites already attached to them, and these tiny parasites suck the hemolymph blood-equivalent out of bees, attack bee fat body organs, compromise their immune systems, and provide pathways for other viruses, diseases and fungal pathogens into bees and colonies.

The destructive mites infected hive after hive. What were once nuisance infections became devastating epidemics, and sometimes efforts to control the mites and diseases further damaged hives. Maintaining healthy hives became much more complicated and difficult, especially when multiple pathogens invaded.

As disease control efforts improved, hive counts and honeybee populations climbed. They are now at or near 20-year highs in North America and every other continent.

As to claims that neonics should be banned from wildlife refuges, a 2015 international study of wild bees published in Entomology Today found that most wild bees never even come into contact with crops or the neonics that supposedly threaten them.

The same study also determined that only 2% of wild bees are much involved in crop pollination, and thus become exposed to these pesticides. Yet they are among the healthiest bee species.

Many US Wildlife Refuges were established along migratory bird flyways to provide food for waterfowl. But some can provide sufficient food only through cooperative agreements that let local farmers plant corn, wheat and certain other crops on refuge lands in exchange for leaving some of their crops unharvested, to supplement natural animal food on the refuge.

Some of those farmers do use neonic-coated seeds, preferring that to more traditional insecticides which must be sprayed several times during the growing season, potentially harming bees and other non-target insects or even birds and other wildlife.

Even organic farmers employ crop protecting insecticides that are highly toxic to bees, including rotenone, copper sulfate, spinosad, hydrogen peroxide, azidirachtin and citronella oil, Risk Monger Dr. David Zaruk points out.

Other organic farm chemicals are very toxic to humans. Boron fertilizer and copper sulfate fungicide can affect human brains, livers and hearts. Pyrethrins are powerful neurotoxins that can cause leukemia.

Lime sulfur mildew and insect killer causes irreversible eye damage, and can be fatal if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Rotenone is a highly toxic and can enhance the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Nicotine sulfate is an organic neurotoxin that interferes with nerve-muscle transmissions, causes abnormalities in lab animal offspring, and can lead to increased blood pressure levels, irregular heart-rates and even death in organic gardeners.

They may be “natural” or “organic,” but they’re still powerful and potentially harmful. And in sharp contrast to neonics and other synthetic pesticides, most Big Organic chemicals have not been tested for residue levels or toxicity, Zaruk notes.

Members of Congress should applaud neonic use – instead of condemning it or trying to ban it from refuges – or from all modern agriculture, as some seek to do.

They should focus greater attention on Varroa mites (and Nosema ceranae parasites), and on programs and technologies that really do pose a threat to endangered whooping cranes, other threatened birds, and bats: the proliferation of wind turbines along migratory flyways and close to many wildlife refuges.

They should investigate (and defund) the latest fad among allied radical environmentalist groups – and even some government agencies, like the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Agro-ecology has become a hardcore political movement that rejects and seeks to ban biotech (GMO) and patented hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers, neonics and other pesticides, and even tractors and other mechanized equipment.

Agro-ecology thus perpetuates primitive backbreaking agriculture, poverty, malnutrition and needless death in poor countries – while hypocritically claiming to safeguard ecological values and “social justice.”

Before they introduce legislation, legislators should read reputable scientific studies, rely less on pressure group press releases, and avoid associating with organizations that stridently oppose all manner of modern technologies in the name of protecting bees and other wildlife, indigenous people and human rights.

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of many articles on the environment. He has degrees in geology, ecology and environmental law.

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39 thoughts on “Bill to reinstate Obama pesticide ban ignores science

  1. This seems like a cooperative venture between the green blob and the organic food industry to be generally bloodymindedly fearmongering.

  2. I heard an “expert” on NPR describe diatomaceous earth as “organic”.

    We’ve lost.

    • “organic[ awr-gan-ik ]SHOW IPA
      SYNONYMS|EXAMPLES|WORD ORIGIN SEE MORE SYNONYMS FOR organic ON THESAURUS.COM
      adjective
      noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.
      characteristic of, pertaining to, or derived from living organisms:
      organic remains found in rocks.
      of or relating to an organ or the organs of an animal, plant, or fungus.
      of, relating to, or affecting living tissue:
      organic pathology.”

    • Once shopping, I saw the healthy, good for you “Sugar Free” label on 5 lb. packages of Domino Premium Pure Cane …… umm …… Granulated ….. ummm … Sugar!

      We are Doomed.

      AOC tells us that we have only 11 years and 8 months before the Earth bursts into flames.
      It may not take nearly that long.

      • It is far more satisfying – and will probably happen well before 11 years and 8 months – to see Leftist heads burst into flames.

        I figure just a bit more than 1 year and 3 months until that salubrious event.

      • “Once shopping, I saw the healthy, good for you “Sugar Free” label on 5 lb. packages of Domino Premium Pure Cane …… umm …… Granulated ….. ummm … Sugar!”

        You really should use a sarc tag. If you’re serious, shirley you can find that label on the web.

  3. > “…only 2% of wild bees are much involved in crop pollination, and thus become exposed to these pesticides. Yet they are among the healthiest bee species.

    Yet? Care to expand on this point?

    • My take is as follows:
      “only 2% of wild bee species are much involved…”
      It seems that North America has a huge number of native wild bee species. I had no idea how many species before this whole “neonic” thing came up. I always thought just a few here and there, maybe.

      • Your “take,” TonyL, is likely correct. I was a career farmer, and wild bumblebees were heavily involved in pollinating many crops I grew. My wild guess is that wild bumblebees are active in other crops as well. Bumblebees are larger, more energetic, work longer hours and in more difficult weather than honeybees.

        When observing the progress of pollination on cranberries, my main crop, we figured bumblebees were nine times more effective than honeybees. In other words, if you counted one bumblebee for every nine honeybees, you were getting half the pollination from the wild bees. Half is still a lot, and it was cost-effective to rent domesticated honeybees for pollination.

        There are many other species of wild bees, and other pollinators, too: certain moths & butterflies, hornets, wasps, even ants. One of the most amazing phenomena in my neck of the woods is the pollination period of Japanese knotweed, an invasive exotic that typically colonizes road cuts and the rough edges of vacant lots and abandoned fields.

        I happen to like knotweed. It can be invasive, but only in clumps. It’s not a smothering, monster vine like kudzu or bittersweet. It doesn’t spread seed as aggressively as pokeweed or goldenrod. Knotweed is perennial with a dramatic spring growth emergence. After the shoots reach about six feet high, the leaves fill out and look about the same through most of the summer, then explode into profuse bloom around the first of September. For the next two weeks, an unimaginable abundance of pollinators works the bloom — everything I mentioned, and then some. A true miracle of nature.

        I believe the timing of knotweed’s flowering period is a happy circumstance of providing abundant pollen flow towards the end of the growing season.

        • Tom – You are correct. Bumblebees are known to be important pollinators of blueberries and cranberries, are great pollinators of pea/bean flowers, cucumbers too, and are also important for any plants that have to have their pollen shaken out of the anthers. Tomatoes and capsicum (peppers) need this ‘buzz pollination’ and only bumblebees and a few others (leaf cutter bees, blue-banded bees here in Australia) are able to do this. Honeybees are ineffectual, so glasshouse growers of tomatoes, peppers, etc. use bumblebees when they can get them and get highly improved yields. No bumblebees in Australia outside of Tasmania where a European species introduced to New Zealand for red clover pollination suddenly showed up, quite possibly because of a grower that wanted increased fruit set.

          • I always liked bumblebees. I see very few honey bees in my blueberries … the bumbles do the job very efficiently.

            Although, when attempting to repair part of the front porch ceiling, I ran into their new nest (they move all the time, sometimes under the house, sometimes in the ground). It gave me an excuse not to finish the work … I left them to their nest in the 1950’s attic insulation along with a hole in the porch ceiling. Well, it turns out that when the temperature gets above 105 (I don’t know what it was in the nest) the bumble bees get very pissy. For the three days of that heat wave 7 years ago I would go out the front door and have to make a run for it. Another plus for the bumblebees as compared to the honey bees … you can hear them coming & you can outrun them.

        • My daughter, about the 7th grade, developed some expertise in edible wild plants. One of her discoveries was Japanese Knotweed; the shoots, when harvested young and tender, make a tasty pie, not unlike rhubarb.

  4. Brilliant Paul. Thank you.

    Too much utter nonsense disseminated by the green blob based on rumour and conjecture, not science.

  5. Well, let’s see what is going on here.
    A bunch of democrat legislators introduce a very ill-advised piece of legislation purely on ideological grounds in the House of Representatives.
    What happens next.
    If the House, if, If, IF the House ever gets back to work after the Gang of Four (AOC + 3) gets done ripping the Democrat party to shreds:
    1) The bill gets passes on a straight line party vote.
    2) Dead On Arrival in the Senate. (DRT – Dead Right There)
    2a) President Trump would never sign it anyway.

    Don Quixote had more success battling windmills.

    • But the Democrats and the green blob can fundraise off their symbolic gesture, which is all they wanted anyway.

    • Deomcrats don’t care about science, all they care about is control and maximizing the income of their big supporters.

  6. Parasites (Varroa destructor) became extinct along about the same time as snow. Along with jobs in parasitology.

  7. DDT was banned by the EPA in 1972 even after EPA studies showed it was safe. 47 years later it’s still banned in the USA, but in heavy demand in places like Africa to combat malaria.

  8. Grew up with DDT on the walls; always buy coated seed if available; use malathion on my roses for aphids; roundup for perennial weeds, don’t buy ‘organic’ at inflated prices in an unregulated industry. My mum used to have a 40lb bag of lindane which she doled out without gloves or mask to kids with headlice – sprinkled it on our sheets to get rid of bedbugs. I can’t figure out how my parents lived to mid-90’s. In fact, given all the nasty things like vaccines, antibiotics and chemical treated foods, chlorine in tap water, air polution it is surprising that life expectancies are so long in the industrialized world. Much better live like the villagers in India, with gleaners following behind the men with the sickles.

    Jon Haidt has proposed that the tendency is for the right to associate ‘impurity’ with things related to sex (original sin), while the left’s expression of this human tendency is to focus on unseen ‘contaminants’ in food and the environment. In both cases it is based on the disgust emotion that may have evolved to prevent eating spoiled food. Because the wider support for the anti-chemical movement is based on emotion rather than reason, it cannot be countered by facts. It is, therefore, a very powerful way that leftist anti-human political movements can motivate these people. I find the underlying notion that humans are an evil plague on the planet that need to be controlled very disturbing.

    • Very good comment, Fran; it should not go unnoticed. We want to live into our mid-90’s?–do what those before us did to live into their mid-90’s, not what someone who dies in their mid-50’s tries to preach to us is ‘the right way’.

      And yet, it’s still all a crap-shoot; under similar conditions unknowns seem to decide life span, not knowns. But for all our western-world ‘horrible chemicals’–we seem to have the longest life-spans.

  9. When it comes to pesticides and herbicides, the studies claiming to be “science” are of the same quality and subject to the same bias as those that regularly get pillaged on this site.

    I can’t believe this article amounts to an appeal to simply accept ‘science’. While I practice and support the use of fact grounded principles in farming, the real problem is that science has been weaponized to serve political and corporate interests to such a degree that it cannot and should not be trusted

    • Correct. When it comes to neonics this article is science free. It’s spot on about the mites. It fails basic logic however. The wild bees are healthy because they don’t get the neonics. The unhealthiest of bees are the industrial Agro bees shipped from state to state- Cali for the almond and Fla for the oranges. They be hurtin the most because of all the poisons they gotta eat.

      It’s hardnto believe this guys wants poisons inprotected bird sanctuaries! And actually makes an argument for it! The birds will find plenty of food if the farmers just stay the hell out! Leave some land wild – the animals deserve it. I’ll be back shortly with all the real science on neonics.
      At least he’s right about the wind farms and the mites. Can’t expect much better from an ideologue.

    • Well, I raise them… right next to our vegetable garden where we use neonics, pyrethrins, and carbamates.
      I spray around the perimeter of the garden and the hives with glysophate to keep from having to use the weedeater around them.

      It’s not a big deal. When we apply pesticides, we do so early or late, when the foragers aren’t out. We avoid the flowers anyway.

  10. The EU has, despite all the scientific evidence that neonics present no threat to bees, banned neonics. That says all you need to know about the EUSSR.

  11. There is probably more humbug revolving around pesticides than around climate change. . . and that’s saying A LOT! I was a career farmer who’s been demonized, ridiculed, over-regulated, and called a land-raper and a stooge of the petrochemical industry by people who have no idea what they’re talking about — never passed high school chemistry, would starve to death if left to their own devices in a frontier situation.

    I’ve tried to explain many times that pesticides are produced “naturally” in the tissues of living things. Neonicotinoids, for instance, are manmade mimics of nicotine, an insecticidal alkaloid in the tissue of tobacco. Other plants in the nightshade family, such as potatoes and tomatoes, produce other alkaloids that are toxic to bugs and larger animals as well. Even so, some insects are immune, and nosh away.

    Poison ivy produces one of the most toxic substances known to science. Amounts too tiny to see, merely brushed against your skin, cause eruptions that last for weeks. A real scientist, Bruce Ames, explained decades ago that manmade pesticides constitute maybe 1% of all the toxins existing in nature.

    The key to safe use –like safe use of anything from kitchen knives to power tools to water — is knowing when and how.

    If you try to explain these things to a dogmatic, “organic” bigot, their eyes glaze over. They WON’T listen. They know everything “synthetic” is deadly poison, the biosphere is on the brink of annihilation, and that’s that! In the meantime, “organic” growers use fungicides like copper sulphate that are less effective and more persistent than better, modern inventions.

    Most of these crusades against “chemicals” and subsequent, gazillion-dollar lawsuits are like a quasi-religious search for the Holy Grail that will return the world to a pre-industrial Eden. In the meantime, activists slash away at the latest scapegoat du jour.

    Note also, my remarks to Tony L about wild bees vs. domestic bees.

    • Tom Gelsthorpe July 21, 2019 at 1:33 pm

      Neonicotinoids, for instance, are manmade mimics of nicotine, an insecticidal alkaloid in the tissue of tobacco. Other plants in the nightshade family, such as potatoes and tomatoes, produce other alkaloids that are toxic to bugs and larger animals as well.

      Now one of the common vegetables that most everyone loves to eat is the cucumber, be it raw or cooked, sliced, diced, baked, fried or pickled.

      Now I like ”sweet” pickles and will eat them, ……. but hate the taste of dill pickles.

      But now, “fresh” out of the garden or grocery store cucumbers I try to avoid eating at all cost.

      And my reason for doing so is the simple FACT that I do not know of any insect, worm, vermin, bird or animal (other than humans), …… that will feed on or eat cucumbers harvested from one’s garden or purchased elsewhere.

      Thus, I figure, …… iffen bugs and other animals won’t eat cucumbers then I best not eat them either.

      • You’ve got a point there. Cucumbers have negligible food value anyway, so you’re not missing much.

      • Samuel – Quite a few insects attack cucumber (and other cucurbits – cucumbers are just a kind of melon/squash). I’ve given up trying to grow cukes because of a cucumber worm (Diaphania indica) here (Queensland), but there are lots of other pests, e.g.

        https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/cucumber-squash-melon-other-cucurbit-insect-pests/

        So, Sam, take the bugs advice and have some cucumbers. Sliced with onions and pickled overnight in vinegar makes a nice salad. Tzatziki – cucumbers in yogurt – isn’t bad at all. As Tom notes they aren’t a bundle of nutrients, but they are low in calories.

        • But, DaveW, ……. deres a million different vermin herein the da eastern US and I’ve only seen a few “in-the-garden” cucumbers that a “bug” had eaten about a 1/16th inch wide by 1 1/2 inch long piece of the “green” peeling …… and nothing more, ……. which probably kilt um dead, or whatever, ……. anyway, that’s a sure sign they aint gonna eatum.

          Now as a learned Biologist, that tells me that the cucumber plant has surely evolved a “defense mechanism” to insure seed maturity and thus species survival.

          But, having originated in India makes it an “invasive” species to North America and thus no natural predators here in the US except humans.

          But whatta I know, I’m just an observer.

  12. “Agro-ecology thus perpetuates primitive backbreaking agriculture, poverty, malnutrition and needless death in poor countries – while hypocritically claiming to safeguard ecological values and “social justice.””

    +1! If it is justice, it doesn’t need the “social”, and if it is not justice, we don’t want it.

  13. Even the UK protested about the banning of neonicotinoids by the EU, saying there was insufficient evidence.

    What we are seeing is a replay of anti-kemikal campaigns going back decades: Advances in analytical chemistry allow for detection of many compounds at extremely low and diminishing levels. The green playbook operates by claiming that anything detectable is harmful, and there’s always a few “academics” willing to publish papers claiming a connection between some chemical that the green lobby would like to ban, and some, usually unrelated, event that they would like to blame on mankind’s activities.

    Plus ça change…

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