Patterns with Pesticides

There's been a steady stream of news stories lately about the dangers of neonicotinoid pesticides (or "neonics") which are widely used in the US, but are temporarily banned in the European Union. As a beekeeper, I've been hearing a lot about these chemicals. Honeybees are essential pollinators for US fruits and vegetables, but bee populations have mysteriously crashed in recent years. In a recent segment on Living on Earth, Harvard School of Public Health scientist Alex Lu tells host Steve Curwood that new research connects the bee's collapse to the recent introduction of these pesticides, comparing them to what happened with DDT in the 1960's-1970's. For the 7-minute LOE interview, listen here.

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Furthering the DDT analogy that killed bald eagles and other raptors, research published last week in the journal Nature links the use of neonics to declining populations of some insect-eating birds. Cynthia Palmer of the American Bird Conservancy and bee expert Dennis vanEngelsdorp talk about the birds, bees, and environmental protection on a recent segment on Science Friday. For the 17-minute SciFri interview, listen here. Are bees the canaries in the coal mine, soon to be followed by other animals?

The science may not be quite as settled in the US as it is in Europe, but Home Depot and BJ's Wholesale Club seem to be responding to the half-million Americans who've signed petitions urging them to stop selling plants treated with neonics. Friends of the Earth found over half of garden plant samples contain the pesticides at Home Depot, Lowe's, and Walmart. Home Depot and BJ's say they are working with vendors to identify products that do not contain neonics by the end of the year. While garden centers work on cleaning up our back yards, the White House established a new task force to take steps to reverse pollinator losses on a broader scale. Will it be enough to stem the bad news for birds, bees, and others?