Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pesticide Action-Packed!

It was standing room only at last night's Honey Bee Club of Stillwater meeting. Our guest was Lex Horan from the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PAN) panna.org.  Lex gave us a detailed and sobering account of how widespread neonicotinoid (neonic) use is in this country.  Here is a summary of Lex's presentation.  Links are included to enable you to do your own research and take action.

PAN is a 30 year old international organization that works with the public to broaden participation and with policy makers to make and enforce policies to protect the environment from lethal pesticide use.


It's pretty awful that a well-intentioned gardener can plant to attract pollinators, and unwittingly send these pollinators to their death.  As many as 31 out of 34 nursery plants are treated with neonics.  The lack of disclosure makes this a huge problem for beekeepers and gardeners. 


Besides being the most widely used class of insecticides, neonics are systemic insecticides that are typically  applied as seed coatings or soil drenches.  They are transmitted to all parts of the plant, including pollen, nectar, and guttation drops (the dew-like plant moisture that collects on plant leaves and is ingested by thirsty bees).  We know that exposure of these chemicals have a neurologic effect on bees.  This can either kill large number of bees outright from pesticide drift, or by scrambling the bee brain to impair orientation, social communication, decrease immunity, and delay larval development.  Many of these affects are cumulative and synergistic (for example, making bees more susceptible to nosema).  Any way you dice it, the bees are seriously weakened.

 * Bob Sitko described how to spot an outright pesticide kill.  You will see bees piled outside of the hive and inch or two deep.  This happens very quickly, often in a few hours.


In recent years, there has been a shift away from responsible integrated pest management (IPM) to the broad use of certain pesticides.  The vast majority of row crops are genetically modified (GMO) to pair  with a pesticide to control insects or weeds (e.g., Round-Up Ready Corn). This allows the farmer to apply the chemical without killing the desired plant.  Not only do these chemicals directly and indirectly kill pollinators, but they decrease forage by killing all the 'weedy' plants that may grow between  and on edges of crop rows.


Download the State of the Science here: http://www.panna.org/current-campaigns/bees
Find out what crops are grown near you: http://nassgeodata.gmu.edu/CropScape/


I know, depressing, right?  Don't despair.  The Europeans have taken many steps to protect honey bees and we can do the same.
  • In Italy, neonic seed treatment were banned in 2008.
  • In Germany, treated corn seeds were pulled from the market in 2008.
  • In France, treated sunflower and corn seeds were suspended in 1999.  
  • In 2013, The European Food Safety Authority report concluded that neon's pose an "unacceptable risk" to bees.
  • A EU wide ban is currently under consideration.


True.  It appears our regulators have been getting their reports directly from industry funded "studies".  The Conditional Registration (CR) loophole allows a new active ingredient to enter the market while the registrar gathers safety data.  Although this loophole was meant to be used under extreme conditions, approximately 65% of the 16,000 neonics have been rushed to market BEFORE TESTING.


  • Let neighbors know that you have bees and what they are using on their landscape.  This will facilitate discussion and learning.  
  • Ask your plant supplier if they use neonics.  Buy plants from nurseries you know are neonic free and buy seed from 'safe seed' suppliers.  See list on the "How to Help Bees" tab on this blog.
Nationally, there are ways to voice your concern.  For national issues, the easiest way is to go through PAN's action center:  http://www.panna.org/get-involved/action-center.  The EPA is currently reviewing neonics, and will make their decision by 2018.  This date needs to be moved up, we know the bees can't wait another 4 years for a decision.

If you prefer to contact the EPA on your own, here are some talking points as suggested by PAN:
  1. Conduct evaluations of neonicotinoids in a timely manner, using independent and field-relevant data.
  2. Restrict the use of neonicotinoids as a seed treatment on bee forage and pollinator-dependent crops (e.g. corn, almonds, sunflowers).
  3. Close the conditional registration loophole.
  4. Invest in alternative pest-control and support for growers who wish to protect pollinators.  
Locally, there are 3 bills in the House THIS WEEK.  You can contact your House Member and make your comments heard directly.  Here are links so you can look and find your House Member:

Next meeting on April 21 we will be joined by Ed Simon to discuss Swarm Catching: Techniques and Equipment

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