The debate on the negative impacts of insecticides rages on. Last week saw the United States Environmental Protection Agency release the first part of their assessment into the potentially harmful effects insecticides are having on the country's bee populations. The EPA was looking specifically at a pesticide known as imidacloprid, one of pharmaceutical giant Bayer's products. After the EPA’s announcement, Bayer criticized the organization for their conclusions on the impact of the insecticide on bees.
But since that initial statement, in which the pharmaceutical company said that the EPA “appears to overestimate the potential for harmful exposures in certain crops,” they seem to have backed down somewhat. In a statement to The Guardian, Bayer has admitted that the assessment is actually “quite good and scientifically sound,” while also saying that they will now work with the EPA and suggest plans to help instate extra protection for bees.
Neonicotinoids have been implicated in the decline of pollinators across Europe and North America. Stocksolutions/Shutterstock
The insecticide in question, imidacloprid, is a member of a group of chemicals known as neonicotinoids, often shorted to “neonics.” These chemicals have been at the center of a debate spreading from the United States and Canada to Europe, questioning the impact they have on bees and other pollinators vital for crops and agriculture. There is evidence to suggest that neonics might be responsible, or at least implicated in, the dramatic and worrying declines in honey bee numbers seen across the western world. Studies have found that the chemical can confuse the insects and make it harder for the bees to find their way back to the hive.
These implications led the European Union to ban the use of neonics commercially for two years while more data was gathered on their potential impacts. This move was unsurprisingly chastised by the companies that make the insecticides, such as Bayer, who maintain that if their products are used “correctly,” they can actually “preserve beneficial insects and protect against insect resistance.”
The first review from the EPA, however, “indicates that imidacloprid potentially poses risk to hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators,” the organization said in a statement. Specifically, the study looked into cotton and citrus crops, and found that when the insecticide was at concentrations of more than 25 parts per billion, the chemical was harmful to bee colonies. They are now looking at whether there is a similar effect on the bees when imidacloprid is used on other crops.
While the EPA is also reviewing the impact of other neonics, it’s not only the manufacturing companies who have been criticizing them. Some environmental organizations have come out saying that the EPA isn’t actually going far enough by simply looking at the insecticides impact on bees, but that they should also be looking at other pollinators, such as butterflies, and the creatures that feed on the insects, such as birds.