G&M: EPA says controversial neonics do little to help soybean yields

By Eric Atkins  Read full story

A controversial class of pesticide linked to the deaths of insect pollinators does little to help U.S. soybean growers increase yields, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.

The regulator said on Friday its study of neonicotinoid seed treatment widely used to protect crops against insects provide “negligible overall benefits” to farmers and production of the oil seed.

The approved use of neonicotinoid pesticides, made by Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Chemical, is being reviewed by regulators in the United States and Canada after several studies have shown the chemicals contribute to the decline in populations of honeybees and other insects. The EPA said its newly released analysis will help it assess the continued approval or registration of neonics, as they are known.

"In our analysis of the economic benefits of this use we concluded that, on a national scale, U.S. soybean farmers see little or no benefit from neonicotinoid seed treatments," said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

Ontario grows 70 per cent of Canada’s soybean crop. Neonics are applied to more than half the soybean seeds and all corn before planting, although the provincial government has said only 10 to 30 per cent of the Ontario’s cropland is prone to pest infestations. Farmers say they need the insecticide to guard against pest outbreaks and protect their businesses. The chemical companies say neonics are safe if used as directed, and that bees only absorb tiny amounts of the pesticide when foraging for pollen and nectar.

But a growing body of scientific evidence says the pesticide design to make plants toxic to such pests as wire worms and grubs also help kill honey bees and other pollinators. Studies have shown neonics affect bees’ abilities to collect pollen, and disrupt their navigation behaviours.

Honey producers say neonics weaken bees and worsen the effects of parasitic mites and viruses, and contribute to overwintering deaths.

Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s Premier, has said the agriculture ministry will take steps to reduce the use of neonics by the 2015 growing season and implement a licensing or permit system by 2016.

The Ontario Beekeepers Association said it supports the move to end the blanket use the pesticide, noting 58 per cent of the province’s hives were lost over the past winter.

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