CATCH THE BUZZ: Costs outweigh neonic benefits study

Study Reveals that Costs Outweigh Benefits of Toxic Insecticides Implicated in Bee Kills

Center for Food Safety today released a scientific literature review which reveals that neonicotinoid insecticide seed treatments offer little benefit, do not increase crop yields, and cause widespread environmental and economic damage. In particular, neonicotinoids have been implicated in bee population declines and colony collapse. While some fear that crop yields will suffer without the use of neonicotinoids, the study released today demonstrates that their benefits do not outweigh the costs.

The authors examined 19 peer-reviewed studies of the relationship between neonicotinoid treatments and actual yields of major U.S. crops. Eight studies found that neonicotinoid treatments did not provide any significant yield benefit, while 11 studies showed inconsistent benefits. The studies corroborate evidence from European countries that were able to maintain crop yields even after neonicotinoid bans. The review cites the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failure to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis and calls on EPA to suspend seed treatment product registrations.

“The environmental and economic costs of pesticide seed treatments are well-known. What we learned in our thorough analysis of the peer-reviewed science is that their claimed crop yield benefit is largely illusory, making their costs all the more tragic,” said Peter Jenkins, co-author of the report and consulting attorney for Center for Food Safety.

Read the report HERE.

Seeds of commercial crops in the U.S., particularly corn and soybeans, are widely treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, ostensibly to protect emerging seedlings from pests and thus improve yields. Almost all of the corn seed and approximately half of the soybeans in the U.S. are treated with neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species and are considered a significant negative contributor to pollinator health. Neonicotinoid pesticides are also slow to break down, so they can build up in areas where they are applied. They contaminate surface water, ground water, and soil, endangering not only pollinators, but also other beneficial species that inhabit these ecosystems.

Pesticide seed treatments are regulated by EPA under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which directs the agency to evaluate whether the use of any pesticide proposed for registration presents “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits.”

“Their impact on honey bees, other pollinators and on the nation’s beekeepers is especially troubling. Because the available scientific studies show little if any benefit, EPA should suspend all neonicotinoid seed treatment product registrations as required under FIFRA until the costs and benefits are adequately reviewed,” said Jenkins.

“Although there is no doubt that neonicotinoids are highly toxic to insects, this does not mean they are routinely effective in pest management. In many contexts they provide no benefit, and in others they are not a cost-effective option. The bottom line is these toxic insecticides are being unnecessarily applied to seeds in most cases, while harming pollinators and the environment,” said Sarah Stevens, researcher and co-author of the report.

“The economic costs of neonicotinoid seed treatments are real. In addition to paying for unnecessary treatments, the overuse of these pesticides has led to significant costs to society at large,” added Stevens.

Dr. Christian Krupke of Purdue University, a top bee scientist and reviewer of the report, will be speaking at a briefing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, 3/20/14, to discuss his own research on this topic. He will be joined by UK expert Dr. David Goulson of the University of Sussex, whose background research is relied on in the report. Dr. Goulson is an outspoken bee expert who made major contributions to the EU decision to suspend many neonicotinoid uses for a minimum of two years. Interviews with them about the topics in the CFS report and their statements to Congress and regulators can be arranged through Center for Food Safety.