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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


The paradigm will now shift. . .

Posted 4/21/15 (Tue)

Two major retailers in the United States, Lowe’s and Home Depot, announced last week they are phasing out chemicals that contain neonicotinoids, the active ingredients that have been known to kill honeybees.

It’s the first time since research began on this topic in Europe in the 1990s that someone in the United States has acknowledged that “neonics” are responsible for honeybee deaths.

The French government banned neonics in 1999, the Italian government did it in 2002 and Germany followed. In 2013, all European Union nations banned the use of neonics.

And in all the years since 1999, state and federal agencies in the U.S. said they didn’t know what is killing the honeybees.

Finally, in the past year, the EPA announced that it considers one of the neonics, imidacloprid, highly toxic to bees.

In 2007, North Dakota beekeepers brought in an expert from Florida to talk about colony collapse disorder. I attended that convention in Minot and never once did I hear the word neonics.

Oddly enough, while doing research for this article, I ran across an entry that a group of North Dakota beekeepers sued Bayer Crop Science after neonics were sprayed on canola in 1995 resulting in the loss of one-third of the state’s honeybee population at that time.

I don’t know if it’s true. I can’t independently verify it. The state Ag Department or beekeepers I’ve attempted to talk to, won’t respond to that question. I actually read the article on the Australian Pesticide and Veterniary Medicine Authority webiste.

If it is true, North Dakota beekeepers have known about the danger of this insecticide as long as the French have studied it, yet the USDA, the EPA and the state of North Dakota will not acknowledge what has already been proven all over Europe, Canada and pending in Australia.

There are five neonics that are used in a variety of chemicals. They are called “imidacloprid,” “clothianidin,” “acetamiprid,” “thiacloprid,” and “thiamethoxam.”

These neonics are used on canola, sugar beets, corn, peas, soybeans, barley, sunflowers, potatoes and even lawns, all of which are prominent in North Dakota.

Neonics are used in brand names chemicals like Gaucho, Provado, Merit, Lorsban, Sevin XLR, Pounce and Admire. All are produced by Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta or Valent USA.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture lists 40 chemicals as highly toxic to honeybees and another 79 that are moderately toxic.

According to the Australian Pesticide Authority, neonics are made from chlorinated nicotine compounds that block the activity of the insect’s central nervous system. In other words, it paralyzes the insect.

Madeleine Chagron, a professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal, has been studying honeybees for 20 years. Her research indicates that neonics will remain in the plant for the life of the plant, which means if it is sprayed prior to flowering, it may not matter because the active ingredient will remain in place and affect the bees.

She said multitudes of honeybees are dying in eastern Canada, where the crops are consistently corn and soybeans.

In recent years, chemical companies have begun seed treating corn and canola with neonics. It prevents insects from destroying seeds before they can germinate.

Most of the research that has come out regarding the seed treatment, indicates the neonics haven’t been the same issue as the spraying has been.

You can go on the Internet and find all this information I just put before you. The Netherlands, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil and Denmark all have serious concerns about neonics, so why is the United States still dragging its feet on this?

The USDA has come up with a multitude of bee death alternatives such as varroa mites and chemical cocktails, which are certainly possibilities, but has never confirmed that neonics are responsible.

That’s going to change now since Lowe’s made its April 13 announcement to stop selling neonics.

Consumer demand to reduce or ban neonics in the United States is going to push the USDA’s envelope to change its position.

Don’t be surprised when more giant American retailers make similar announcements in the coming months and years.

Whether we want to admit it or not, honeybees are dying off in dramatic numbers and if something doesn’t change soon, agriculture is going to change in ways we can’t even imagine.