The Global Fool

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Neonicotinoid Pesticides: Bad for Bees, Bad for Many Other Species
May06

Neonicotinoid Pesticides: Bad for Bees, Bad for Many Other Species

By Roberta Attanasio Do neonicotinoid pesticides harm bees? According to scientific evidence, the answer is “yes”. Indeed, scientific evidence for the toxic effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees is accumulating at an increasing pace. And, on the basis of scientific evidence, the European Commission banned in 2013 the use of three neonicotinoids — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — on flowering plants. The ban was motivated by findings from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA); these findings were based on the evaluation of the scientific studies available at the time. Now, a report from the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) emphasizes that bees are not the only species affected by the use of these pesticides. The report is based on the findings of an international group of independent scientists with expertise ranging from pollination biology through systems ecology to toxicology. According to the report, there is more and more scientific evidence that widespread use of neonicotinoids has severe effects on species that are important for pollination, natural pest control, and soil productivity. For example, predatory insects such as parasitic wasps and ladybugs that aid in pest control, and earthworms that improve soil productivity, are all harmed. In addition, neonicotinoid use has a negative impact on biodiversity. Neonicotinoids are neurotoxic (poisonous to nerves or nervous tissue of insects and other organisms), and act systemically in the plants — their solubility in water allows them to be absorbed and spread via the plant’s vascular system to all of its tissues. They reach leaves, flowers, roots and stems, even pollen and nectar, and become toxic not only to sap-sucking pests such as aphids or mealybugs, but also to any other species that harvest the different parts of the plant. In addition, exposure is possible across trophic levels, as for example in the case of bees foraging on honey dew, predators exposed through ingesting prey, or soil organisms decomposing contaminated organic matter. There is also evidence for sub-lethal effects of very low levels of neonicotinoids, over extended periods of time, on non-target beneficial organisms. Repeated sub-lethal doses may eventually become deadly once a certain threshold is passed. The EASAC report acknowledges that use of all pesticides is based on the balance between the desired effect on food production and the inevitable risk of collateral damage to non-target species and the environment. However, for neonicotinoids, scientific evidence accumulated over the last two years suggests that, rather than balance, there in imbalance —  the risk of collateral damage is too high when compared to the benefits. Peter Neumann, EASAC’s Chair of the Working Group, wrote in an article published in the journal Nature that the...

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Flame Retardants in Honey?
Dec19

Flame Retardants in Honey?

By Roberta Attanasio When the bees feast on flowers, we enjoy honey, the increasingly popular nature’s sweetener and bearer of many health benefits. The “foodie” boom has generated not only appreciation for the aroma, texture and flavor profiles of different types of honey, but also demand for cosmetics and fragrances that contain it. Not everything about honey is as good as it seems, though – there are things like frauds and unexpected chemicals. Pesticides are a known problem for bees and honey, but now there is something else here – flame retardants. These toxic chemicals are widespread throughout the globe and contaminate the food chain, including human milk, as they are present in many products and are released in both indoor and outdoor environments. Some flame retardants cause reproductive and developmental defects as well as cancer, and some are also endocrine disruptors.   Very recently, researchers from Spain and Brazil studied 35 commercial honey samples collected in Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and Morocco  in the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 and found that honey samples from Slovenia, Spain and Portugal contained mostly some specific types of fire retardants, whereas Brazilian and Moroccan honey samples contained mostly other types of these chemicals. The results of their study, entitled “Levels of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in honey samples from different geographic regions” (February 15, 2014), are published in the journal Science of the Total Environment. This is not the first instance flame retardants have been identified in honey. A study published in 2010 analyzed 50 honey samples from different countries and regions and found different types of flame retardants in both developed and developing countries, and  in higher amounts when compared to those found in the most recent study. Is honey a significant source of exposure to flame retardants for people that consume it? At this time, it is not clear. Controversy keeps surrounding these toxic chemicals. In November, independent testing commissioned by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and 15 other organizations found harmful flame retardants in children’s chairs, couches and other kids’ furniture purchased throughout the U.S. and Canada. However, there are good news. According to the Chicago Tribune (November 22, 2013) “For decades, U.S. manufacturers have filled upholstered furniture with pounds of toxic chemicals to comply with a flammability standard set by a single state, California. The obscure rule, known as Technical Bulletin 117, brought flame retardants into homes across the country. American babies came to be born with the highest recorded average concentrations of the chemicals among any infants in the world. But on Thursday, California threw out the 38-year-old rule and approved a new one that furniture manufacturers can meet without using flame retardants.” Nicholas Kristof, New York Times Op-Ed columnist,...

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Global Decline of Insect Pollinators Threatens the Human Food Supply
Apr24

Global Decline of Insect Pollinators Threatens the Human Food Supply

By The Editors An international team of 40 scientists (from 27 institutions involved in the UK’s Insect Pollinators Initiative) reports that pollinating insects, essential to the food supply, are threatened at a global level by a “cocktail” of multiple pressures that puts their survival at risk.  The findings were published April 22 in the journal “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment” (Adam J Vanbergen, and the Insect Pollinators Initiative. 2013. Threats to an ecosystem service: pressures on pollinators). The multiple pressures within the “cocktail” combine and exacerbate the negative impacts on insect pollinators of crops and wild plants. What are these multiple pressures?  Intensification of land-use, climate change, the spread of species that are not native to the ecosystem, lack of food sources, diseases and pesticides. Possible solutions are complex, but taking immediate action is necessary to avoid bigger problems in the future.  Let’s not forget the farmers of Maoxian county in the Chinese province of Sichuan.  They lost most pollinators through indiscriminate use of pesticides and, for the past few decades, these farmers have been hand-pollinating apple and pear flowers with pollination sticks made of chicken feathers and cigarette filters (see picture below). . Is hand pollination efficient?  Is it sustainable?  Can human bees replace honeybees?  We all know the answer to these...

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