Beekeepers were the first to sound the alarm of neonicotinoids, seeing a connection between bees dying in large numbers, colony collapse disorder (CCD), and these chemicals. Neonicotinoids threaten not only honey bees, but other pollinators and our ecology as well. And the chemicals are pervasive. Here’s what you need to know.
What are Neonicotinoids?
Neonicotinoids are a class of chemicals which include seven different insecticides: imidacloprid (the most common), clothianidin, acetamiprid, thiacloprid, dinotefuran, thiamethoxam, and nitenpyram. Applied as a spray or a seed coating, neonicotinoids are absorbed into every tissue of the plant including the leaves, branches, roots, pollen and nectar. This is a systemic pesticide.
Neonicotinoids harm the central nervous system of insects. As the insect eats part of the plant, the insect may be killed immediately, or suffer symptoms that affect their survival. With the honey bee, if a bee collects nectar and pollen with neonics in it and survives, the bee then brings this food with chemicals back to the hive. The other bees and larvae are exposed to the chemicals.
The Harm of Neonics
- Evidence shows that neonicotinoids are toxic to honey bees and pollinators and contribute to their decline.
- Low levels of exposure to neonics can hurt foraging abilities and navigation for bees, disrupt learning, communication, and memory. Affected bees have trouble flying, collecting food, and getting back to the hive. Neonics have also suppressed the immune systems of bees, making them more vulnerable to disease and pests.
- Neonics kill wild bee populations too, including bumblebees and mason bees.
- Butterflies, invertebrates, and songbirds also die from neonics. It takes just one neonic coated seed to kill a songbird.
- Neonics have been found harmful to a variety of beneficial insects, and may have negative effects on earthworms and other soil invertebrates.
- Neonicotinoids stay in the soil for a few months to years after application. These chemicals can accumulate in the soil. Residue can get into the water supply, affecting other organisms and our drinking water.
- The neonic products you will find in a store can have manufacturer-recommended application rates up to 120 times higher than rates approved for crops (yes, you read that correctly, 120 times). The average homeowner could do tremendous damage.
- Neonicotinoids are big business, with billions of dollars being made. The companies that produce them, Bayer CropSciences, Syngenta, and Dow Chemical, conduct their own studies to suggest their products do no harm.
- Most countries in the European Union have temporarily banned three neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiametoxam) because of the harm to honey bees and pollinators.
- In January 2016 the EPA confirmed that the neonicotinoid imidacloprid–one of the seven neonicotinoids on the market– is highly toxic to bees.
Bees have many stresses working against their survival, neonicotinoids being an obvious one. I find the harm these chemicals are doing to our ecology and bees troubling–to say the least. We need to remove neonicotinoids from our environments.
What You Can Do
There is a lot you can do to avoid neonicotinoids.
*Choose organic garden products. Seek out organic solutions found on this website and elsewhere. Remember neonics are widespread and often used in any product designed to kill bugs. This includes lawn care products or other garden products. Here is a list of products that contain neonics, from 2013. Check the ingredient list and look for: imidacloprid, clothianidin, acetamiprid, thiacloprid, dinotefuran, thiamethoxam, and nitenpyram.
*Buy your plants from a nursery (either local or online) that do not use neonics. If you are not sure about a nursery’s policy on neonicotinoids, just ask.
*Sign the SumOfUs petition asking the big box stores to stop selling neonics.
*Talk to you friends and neighbors about this issue. Share this post with them.
*Get political. Tell your representatives in Congress that you want neonicotinoids banned due to the harm they are doing to pollinators. To find your Congressional representatives, go here.
*Eat organic if possible. Organic food does not contain any neonics.