According to a new study conducted by an international scientific task force, the evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides are doing serious damage to the environment and bee populations across the globe is now conclusive.
Researchers say neonicotinoid pesticides pose a threat comparable to that once posed by DDT.
Neonicotinoids, like many other types of pesticides, were promoted as a safer alternative to other pesticides at first. However, even from the start, many scientists warned that the new strain of pesticides could have a severe environmental impact.
Neonicotinoids are referred to as “systemic insecticides” because they are sprayed onto seeds and absorbed into every cell of the plant. That makes the entire plant poisonous for the entire time it’s alive.
Scientists have been worried that neonicotinoids and other systemic insecticides are a significant contributing factor to the global decline in honeybee populations. In response to these concerns, the environmental organization IUCN created an international scientific taskforce to study systemic pesticides in 2011.
After nearly four years of studying more than 800 peer-reviewed papers on the topic spanning the last 20 years, the scientists concluded that systemic insecticides, including neonicotinoids, have a devastating negative impact on wildlife species across the world.
“There is so much evidence, going far beyond bees,” said researcher Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex, England. “They accumulate in soils, they are commonly turning up in waterways at levels that exceed the lethal dose for things that live in streams. It is impossible to deny that these things are having major environmental impacts.”
In one study, scientists discovered that neonicotinoids were accumulating in Dutch water supplies and destroying native populations of aquatic invertebrates. With these creatures gone, large animals like fish and birds had nothing to eat, and thus also died out. Other studies found that neonicotinoids were devastating populations of animals as diverse as butterflies, earthworms, and snails.
Although neonicotinoids are 6,000 times more toxic than older pesticides like DDT, they have become one third of the global insecticide market.
“We have forgotten those lessons and we’re back to where we were in the 1960s,” Goulson said. “We are relying almost exclusively on these insecticides, calendar spraying 20 times or more onto a single field, it’s a completely bonkers way.”
In another study, researchers found that more than 50 percent of the “bee-friendly” plants sold by Home Depot, Lowes, and Walmart have actually been treated with neonicotinoids. That means they’re actually killing the essential pollinators they were meant to attract.
“Unfortunately,” authors of that study wrote, “home gardeners have no idea they may actually be poisoning pollinators through their efforts to plant bee-friendly gardens.”