The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently banned 12 products containing neonicotinoid, a pesticide that functions similarly to nicotine.

from Business Insider magazine by Aria Bendix

  • Neonicotinoids have been linked to impaired memory, flight-movement, and death in bees, critical to the world’s crop production.
  • 7 of the recently banned pesticides are used to protect crops like soybeans, cotton, and corn from diseases and pests.
  • EPA ban represents a win for environmentalists but leaves forty-seven neonicotinoid-based products on the market.

When we give bees neonicotinoids they become addicted. Since the 1980s, neonicotinoid has been used commercially to protect crops from being destroyed by insects. Its name literally means ‘nicotine-like.’ While “it was never meant to hurt bees,” they’ve experienced collateral damage for over thirty-five years while pollinating fruits, vegetables, and almonds. The effects of neonicotinoids are similar to those of nicotine in humans. Not only is the pesticide detrimental to the health of bees, as bees become addicted they prefer it to their own food. Exposed to neonicotinoids, bees experience adverse problems with their central nervous systems.

For years, beekeepers have warned that these pesticides are killing their hives. Any major decline in honeybee numbers will have severe implications for the human diet since bees pollinate about a third of the world’s crops.

Miami-Dade County sprays insecticide in Wynwood neighborhood. Getty ImagesRecently, concerns about this threat translated into action in the US

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a ban on 12 neonicotinoid pesticides from three agro-chemical companies: Syngenta, Valent, and Bayer. Seven of these pesticides are used as a protective coating for crops like soybeans, cotton, and corn. When farmers use neonicotinoids on their crops, the pesticides can leech into water supplies, which then get absorbed by flowers that serve as vital food sources for bees. In 2017, beekeepers in the US reported losing about 40% of their hives, an enormous percentage of life in bee population…this trend continues to exterminate bee populations nationally.

“We’re on the verge of losing hundreds of native bee species in the United States if we don’t act to save them,” said study author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher, in a statement. “If we don’t act to save these remarkable creatures, our world will be a less colorful and more lonesome place.”

Of the list of EPA-banned pesticides, six are made by Syngenta. These products contain the active ingredient thiamethoxam, a neonicotinoid that can cause bees to become hyperactive in the short term and can impair their motor function in the long-term. High doses of thiamethoxam might also make honeybees less tolerant of a virus called Chronic Bee Paralysis, which can kill them.

Read more:I attended a breakfast with food that would disappear if honeybees went extinct. It was a disturbing glimpse at a future without avocados and coffee.   This article reviews all of the vital nutritional foods which bees pollinate – “Everything we were served wouldn’t exist in a world without bees.”


Beekeeper points to the queen bee in her hive. Getty Images

Other EPA-banned pesticides contain clothianidin, a neonicotinoid that’s thought to be slightly more toxic than thiamethoxam above. One banned product is used as a protective coating for potatoes, while the other is a household flower-care product.

Studies have shown that clothianidin impairs a bee colony’s immune response and ability to reproduce. Exposure to clothianidin especially threatens the lives of queen bees, which are the backbone of a hive. A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications found that bee colonies in clothianidin-treated fields saw up to 66% fewer males than colonies that weren’t exposed to the chemical, and up to 74% fewer queen bees.

How do I identify a queen bee?

But the battle between agrochemical companies and environmentalists isn’t over. The 47 neonicotinoids allowed by the EPA must be re-registered by 2022, giving environmentalists a few more years to push for a total ban. Denying the use of only 12 is a partial bandaid approach to this pesticide problem. Meanwhile, the European Union has already banned almost all outdoor uses of neonicotinoids following a 2018 food safety report, which determined that the pesticide poses a risk to bees. Good for Europe but not the U.S.!

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