After reviewing possible threats to honey bees, Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has decided to end the use of neonicotinoid insecticides for its Ortho brand lawn and garden care products. The company said they are expanding their selection of non-neonicotinoid products and will completely end the use of neonicotinoid ingredients imidacloprid, clothianidin and dinotefuran by 2017.
“This decision comes after careful consideration regarding the range of possible threats to honey bees and other pollinators,” said Tim Martin, general manager of the Ortho brand. The Wall Street Journal reports that Scotts Miracle-Gro has partnered with the Pollinator Stewardship Council, a U.S. pollinator advocacy organization and supporter of more than 550 beekeepers throughout the country. The company is also seeking to pressure the government into allowing new labeling for pesticides without neonicotinoids.
The decision comes shortly after Maryland passed legislation banning the sale of neonicotinoids. The bill prohibits the retail sale and household use of neonicotinoid pesticides beginning in 2018, but would still allow commercial uses.
In January, the Environmental Protection Agency found that the neonicotinoids harm honey bees when used on cotton and citrus, but not on other crops like corn, berries and tobacco. The “neonics” are a class of pesticide that has previously been linked to declines in bee populations. Neonics were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Around 2006, commercial beekeepers began reporting what is now known as colony collapse disorder — where entire colonies of bees die off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world. Several studies have implicated neonics, which are used to kill insects harmful to crops.
Due to the controversy around these studies, the EPA decided to conduct four scientific risk assessments to examine the neonics and how they affect bees on a chronic long-term basis. The first report, released on Wednesday, was conducted by the EPA and California’s environmental agency and only studied the effects on the honey bee population. Nearly one-third of the human diet depends on insect-pollinated plants, with honey bees pollinating 80% of those crops.
The EPA analysis found a “clear line of harm or no harm” when examining the effects of the pesticide imidacloprid, the most popular neonicotinoid. When bees bring nectar back to the hive with levels of concentration of imidacloprid that are above 5 parts per billion there are fewer bees, less honey, and according to Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, “a less robust hive.” However, if the nectar concentration level was under 25 parts per billion there were no negative effects. Jones also said the first assessment found that treating seeds with the pesticides did not seem to harm the honey bees.
“I am not convinced that neonics are a major driver of colony loss,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland entomologist, told the AP. VanEngelsdorp did tell the AP he believes farmers are relying too heavily on the pesticides “against pests that are simply very scarce or not found in the landscape. There are studies (including EPA’s) that show no benefit to production when these products are used.”
Neonicotinoids have also been the subject of a recent whistleblower complaint filed by a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. United States Department of Agriculture researcher Dr. Jonathan Lundgren filed an internal complaint in September 2014 accusing the USDA of retaliating against him in response to his neonicotinoids research. The complaint was dismissed by the USDA and Lundgren was suspended in October 2014. The West Field Times reports that the USDA said Lundgren was suspended for three days after USDA investigators found emails among his research staff that included indecent jokes.
On October 28, 2015, Lundgren filed a complaint with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board after his supervisors allegedly began to “impede or deter his research and resultant publications.” Lundgren’s complaint alleges that his supervisors suspended him in retaliation for his research on neonicotinoid pesticides and also calls for an investigation of both the USDA and the EPA. Lundgren’s complaint is now moving forward and will hopefully provide some more insight into the possible dangers of the neonicotinoids.
Although Scotts-Miracle Gro should be commended for putting on hold the production of these controversial chemicals, we should also remember that the neonics are not the only class of pesticides which have been linked to harm to the environment and animals. To truly stop the degradation that is happening to the planet and all its inhabitants, we must create and promote localized solutions for food production that do not depend on the factory farming complex and their pesticides.
Derrick is available for interviews.
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