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Controversial Insecticides Could Have Bigger Impact on Biodiversity 'Than We've Ever Seen Before'

New research on "neonics" shows lasting impact on wetlands with "domino effect"

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

A field of canola in Saskatchewan. (Photo: Adam Kahtava/cc/flickr)The "impact on biodiversity" from a controversial class of insecticides called neonicotinoids "could be probably bigger than we've ever seen before if we keep going at this rate," a biologist has warned.

Speaking to Canada's CBC News about findings from her four-year study in progress, Christy Morrissey, a biologist with the University of Saskatchewan, warned that the widespread use of "neonics," as they are also called, across Canada's Prairies has contaminated wetlands, thereby risking a "domino effect" on the insects and birds that demand upon them.  

Neonicotinoids have been linked to harm to bees and other pollinators, as well as the developing human nervous system, and a report on bee mortalities released by Canada's pesticide regulatory body, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, "concluded that current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable."

CBC News reports that "in Western Canada, neonics are most commonly found on canola," and adds that all of the 8.5 million hectares of canola planted in the three Prairie provinces—Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba—have been treated with neonics.

"We all want to have food that we consume and enjoy. But at what cost? Is that at the cost of having no more birds around? Of having no more butterflies? Having no bees?"
—Christy Morrissey, University of Saskatchewan
In addition to finding concentrations of neonics far above levels thought to be safe for insects, Morrissey's research found that the insecticides persisted in the water in some cases for years, meaning that "the bugs... basically are being hit continuously with the chemical."

Given that at least 44 percent of cropland across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba has been doused with neonics, Morrissey told the news agency that the area of potential harm was vast, and said that "upwards of 80 to 90 per cent of the wetlands [her research team sampled] are contaminated."

Her research so far points to a decline in mosquitoes and midges—and "insects are basically the food supply for a lot of wildlife," Morrissey said.

"We all want to have food that we consume and enjoy. But at what cost?" Morrissey asked. "Is that at the cost of having no more birds around? Of having no more butterflies? Having no bees? People are thinking about that now."

Guardian columnist George Monbiot wrote that neonicotinoids are "ripping the natural world apart," referring to them as "the new DDT," and warning they are "another demonstration of the old truth that those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it."

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