Risking another silent spring: NY Times Editorial

From the Editorial Board

The conclusion of the most comprehensive assessment to date of a class of systemic pesticides called neonicotinoids indicates that these chemicals are wreaking much more environmental havoc than previously thought. The report, published last Tuesday by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, asserts there is no longer any doubt that neonicotinoids are a key factor in the dramatic decline of pollinator populations around the world.

To protect bees, vital pollinators of food crops, the European Commission approved a temporary ban on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides last year. Syngenta and Bayer CropScience, which produce these chemicals, have filed legal challenges to the ban with the European Court of Justice.

Industry stakeholders and some scientists reject the connection between neonicotinoids and bee deaths, arguing that these chemicals are safe. Yet most scientists believe that while multiple factors account for the die-offs, including loss of habitat and viruses, the connection to neonicotinoids is indisputable.

Beyond affecting bees, the report says, neonicotinoids disrupt the ability of earthworms to tunnel and aerate soil, and harm a wide variety of insects including freshwater snails, butterflies, mosquitoes and the dragonflies that eat them. Nothing less than the world’s ability to produce food, the report warns, is at risk from these chemicals.

President Obama recognized the urgent need for action when, on June 20, he ordered the establishment of a Pollinator Health Task Force charged with creating a national strategy to protect pollinators. The president’s memorandum cites the potentially serious impact of pollinator loss on the United States economy, and calls for increasing pollinator habitat and raising public awareness. His directive comes not a moment too soon.