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A field of soybeans.  (Photo:  Tom Erickson/flickr/cc)

EPA Analysis Evidence Notorious Neonics Should be Suspended, Watchdog Groups Say

Analysis 'has confirmed what farmers, beekeepers and scientists have been saying all along: neonicotinoids do more harm than good'

Andrea Germanos

A new U.S Environmental Protection Agency analysis of neonicotinoid pesticides on soybean production offers further proof that they should be suspended, environmental watchdog groups say.

This class of pesticides, often referred to as neonics, has been linked to the decline of bees and other environmental harm.

The agency's analysis, released Thursday, found that there was little to no benefit to using neonicotinoid seed treatments on soybean yields. Such neonic-treated seeds, first registered for use in soybeans in 2004, were applied on an average of 30% of soybean acres between 2008 and 2012, EPA states. The analysis notes that some growers report having difficulties in obtaining non-treated seed.

It also states that "much of the observed use is preventative and may not be currently providing any actual pest management benefits."

"In our analysis of the economic benefits of this use we concluded that, on a national scale, U.S. soybean farmers see little or no benefit from neonicotinoid seed treatments,"a Jim Jones, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a media statement.

Environmental groups welcomed the analysis, and said it provided more proof that the agency should take the ecological-protective approach and suspend the use of neonics.

"Neonicotinoid pesticides are one of the leading drivers of global bee declines," stated Friends of the Earth food futures campaigner Tiffany Finck-Haynes. "By confirming that they offer no benefit to U.S. soybean production, the Environmental Protection Agency has no course of action except to suspend all agricultural uses—including seed treatments—to protect pollinators and the planet."

Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist for Pesticide Action Network, adds that the analysis "has confirmed what farmers, beekeepers and scientists have been saying all along: neonicotinoids do more harm than good."

"EPA’s findings are further evidence that the Agency should follow Europe’s lead by restricting and suspending the use of neonicotinoids," whose use poses "serious threats to bees and other pollinators that support the food system," Marquez stated.

The analysis, howerver, was no ringing endorsement of organic agriculture, as it compared neonic-treated seeds with other chemical-dependent methods, including the use of foliar spraying of neonics on soybean plants.

Larissa Walker, pollinator campaign director at Center for Food Safety, told Common Dreams that it's a shame that the analysis goes back to foliar sprays, and that the agency appears to be looking not at systemic contamination from neonics but at best management of them.

"That's not enough," she said, adding that her organization has long said that neonics should not be used at all in agricultural or ornamental applications, as their harm to pollinators and ecosystems is "beyond overwhelming."

In June, for example, an international team of scientists published an analysis based on 800 peer-reviewed reports that found that neonics pose a threat to global biodiversity, while a study by the U.S. Geological Survey published in July found widespread contamination in Midwest waterways from neonics.

As that global analysis and Walker point out, neonics' "mode of action is systemic. They're going to build up in soil and water." Whether it's through seed coating, foliar sprays or soil drenching, it's the same chemicals, she said.

"It's still persistent, still poses environmental problems, harm to pollinators, ecosystems, and potentally human health."

We know that there are better approaches, like using agro-ecological methods that don't rely on systemic pesticides, Walker said.

"The bottom line is we've been asking the EPA to suspend all use of neonics," Walker said. The new analysis is a small step, but there's much more to do, she said.


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