Tag Archives: pesticide

Bald eagle, migratory birds poisoned near Rhinelander, feds investigating

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is  working to apprehend those responsible for the illegal poisoning of an American bald eagle and other migratory birds near Rhinelander in Oneida County.

A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for information leading to a conviction of the person or persons responsible for killing a bald eagle and two ravens.

The birds were discovered on the shoulder of Pine Lake Road north of Haven Lake in July.

The eagle was found lying next to a dead raccoon and the ravens were found in the adjacent ditch.

All three birds and the raccoon were sent to our National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.

The forensics lab determined the raccoon carcass was laced with the pesticide carbofuran and the birds ingested the carbofuran while scavenging on the raccoon.

Carbofuran is an agricultural pesticide used to kill insects, mites and nematodes and is often marketed under the trade names Furadan and Curaterr.

Carbofuran is extremely toxic to birds, fish and bees.

Bald eagles and ravens are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Additionally, bald eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Violations of these statutes carry maximum criminal penalties of up to $100,000 and/or one year in federal prison.

Anyone with information concerning these birds is asked to call the Office of Law Enforcement in Madison, Wisconsin at 608-221-1206, ext. 15.

Survey: Major U.S. food retailers flunk out on pesticide test

Of the top U.S. food retailers, 17 have received an “F” for failing to have a publicly available policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use to protect pollinators.

Aldi, Costco (COST) and Whole Foods (WFM) received passing grades in this category, according to a report and scorecard released this week that looks at policies and practices regarding pollinator protection, organic offerings and pesticide reduction.

“U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth environmental group. “The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. We urge all major retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and to expand domestic organic offerings that protect pollinators, people and the planet.”

The report, “Swarming the Aisles: Rating top retailers on bee-friendly and organic food,” comes amid consumer pressure on food retailers to adopt more environmentally-friendly sourcing policies.

A coalition led by Friends of the Earth and more than 50 farmer, beekeeper, farmworker, environmental and public interest organizations sent a letter urging food retailers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and increase USDA certified organic food and beverages to 15 percent of overall offerings by 2025, prioritizing domestic, regional and local producers.

This effort follows a campaign that convinced more than 65 garden retailers, including Lowe’s and Home Depot, to commit to eliminate bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bees and other pollinators are essential for one in three bites of food consumed in the United States. Without pollinators, grocery stores would run short of strawberries, almonds, apples, broccoli and more.

A growing body of science points to the world’s most widely-used insecticides, neonicotinoids, as a leading factor in pollinator declines, and glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide worldwide, as a key culprit in monarch butterfly declines.

New data from a YouGov Poll released today by Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs found that 80 percent of Americans believe it is important to eliminate neonicotinoids from agriculture.

Among Americans who grocery shop for their household, 65 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that has formally committed to eliminating neonicotinoids.

The poll also revealed that 59 percent of American grocery shoppers believe it is important for grocery stores to sell organic food, and 43 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that sells more organic food than their current grocery store.

“Over 750,000 SumOfUs members have spoken out advocating that U.S. Hardware stores take action to protect our pollinators. And after years of pressure, Home Depot and Lowe’s have finally enacted more bee-friendly policies,” said Angus Wong, lead campaign strategist at SumOfUs, a consumer watchdog group. “And the findings of this poll show that a vast majority of consumers want to eliminate neonicotinoids from their grocery stores too. This is why food retailers must commit policies that protect our bees immediately.”

The report found that while consumer demand for organic and pesticide-free food continues to show double-digit growth only four of the top food retailers — Albertsons, Costco, Target (TGT) and Whole Foods — have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food  or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.

In addition to these retailers, Aldi, Food Lion, part of the Delhaize Group (DEG) and Kroger (KR) disclosed data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.

None of the retailers have made a publicly available commitment to source organic from American farmers.

“To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture,” said Dr. Kendra Klein, staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. “Organic farms support 50 percent more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production — farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic.”

Sixteen of the top 20 food retailers were predominately unresponsive to requests for information via surveys, calls and letters.

Primary sources of information for this scorecard include publicly available information, including company websites, company annual reports, SEC filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage and industry analyses.

On the Web

The reportSwarming the Aisles: Rating top retailers on bee-friendly and organic food, survey results, tips for consumers and letters to retailers can be found at www.foe.org/beeaction.

Insecticide appears to reduce live bee sperm

A new study finds that a commonly used insecticide kills much of the sperm created by male drone honey bees, one reason why the bees are dwindling.

The class of insecticide called neonicotinoids didn’t kill the drones.

But bees that ate treated pollen produced 39 percent less live sperm than those that didn’t, according to a controlled experiment by Swiss researchers published in late July in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

It essentially acted as an accidental contraceptive on the drones, whose main job is to mate with the queen — but not one that prevented complete reproduction, just making it tougher, said Lars Straub, lead author of the study and a doctoral student and researcher at the University of Bern. Drones, which are the product of unfertilized eggs, don’t gather nectar or pollen and don’t sting; they die after mating.

Both the drones that ate insecticide-treated pollen and those not exposed to the chemicals produced about the same amount of sperm. The difference was clear when the researchers put the sperm under the microscope: The bee that didn’t have pesticide in its pollen produced on average 1.98 million living sperm, the one with neonicotinoids in its food about 1.2 million.

“There’s a reduction in sperm viability and the amount of living sperm, but that doesn’t mean there’s no living sperm at hand,” Straub said. The big question is there still enough of sperm that survive to do the job, he said. Queens generally have one mating flight and store sperm.

Study co-author Geoffrey Williams, a senior bee researcher at the University of Bern, said the team doesn’t know how the insecticides might be damaging the sperm, but it seems to be happening after they are produced.

This comes on top of a study published earlier this year in PLOS One that reported the high rate of U.S. honey bee colonies dying coincides with failures of queens. And the queen failure was linked to drones’ dead sperm.

“Queen failure is a big problem and this helps explain it,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture bee scientist Jeff Pettis, who wasn’t part of the neonicotinoid study but was lead author of the PLOS study on queen health. “It’s not the queens themselves, it’s the drones. It’s significant.”

There are many problems — mites, parasites, disease, pesticides and poor nutrition — that seem to combine to shrink the numbers of bees and other pollinators, Straub, Pettis and other scientists said. Pettis said he guesses that poor sperm health may account for about a third of the problem.

Neonicotinoid-maker Bayer Crop Science spokesman Jeffrey Donald said the firm’s scientists will review the study, but in general “artificial exposure to pesticides under lab conditions is not reflective of real-world experience.”

Another team of outside researchers, Jerry Bromenshenk and Colin Henderson at the University of Montana, praised the Straub study as careful and significant. But they said in an email there are still unanswered questions on how much this matters.

Critics: State’s plan to save bees provides little protection from pesticides

Packed into brains the size of a sesame seed, bees’ navigational systems enable them to locate and pollinate $55 million worth of Wisconsin crops annually.

But Wisconsin has become a hard place to be a bee.

The state’s honeybee colony die-off rates, among the highest in the nation, last year was around 60 percent. Beekeeper surveys show 15 percent is generally considered to be an acceptable loss rate.

Wisconsin pollinator populations have been declining for years, endangering the growth of apples, cranberries, cherries and many other fruits and vegetables that rely on bees, butterflies and other pollinators to fertilize them, helping them produce seeds and fruit.

And critics say a recently issued draft of a pollinator protection plan for Wisconsin may offer only limited relief for the insects. The plan recommends voluntary actions such as increasing roadside plantings and pollinator-friendly home gardens, but sets no targets for decreasing the use of a controversial class of agricultural pesticides, neonicotinoids, that attack insects’ brains.

“If it’s all voluntary, it’s basically something that no one has to follow, so what is the point?” asked Harriet Behar, an organic farming specialist with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable agriculture. Behar keeps 25 beehives on her 216-acre farm in Crawford County in southwestern Wisconsin.

Many scientists and beekeepers including Behar believe large-scale farming practices for crops such as corn and soy — which together represent a $2.6 billion industry in Wisconsin — are important contributors to pollinator declines.

“Corn growers, soybean growers don’t need pollinators, so (they) may be less sensitive to the impact their chemicals have on the rest of the environment,” said Claudio Gratton, professor of entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who worked on the pollinator proposal for the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Endless acres of corn and soy with few flowering plants to provide pollen or nectar leave  pollinators with little to eat. For wild bees that build their homes underground, there are few undisturbed places near flowering plants to nest. Other factors such as parasites, pathogens, beekeeping practices that may spread viruses and extreme weather, including drought and severe cold, also can take a toll on bees.

There are also pesticides, including so-called neonics, which act like nicotine in how they target the insect brain.

Pesticide use widespread

Introduced in the 1990s as more targeted toward specific pests and less harmful to humans and wildlife than older, more toxic insecticides — including organophosphates such as parathion and malathion — neonics quickly grew in market share and have become the most widely used insecticides worldwide, with billions in annual sales.

Politically powerful agrochemical interests, including insecticide maker Syngenta, are among the largest producers of neonics. Representatives of Syngenta and the industry trade association CropLife America helped draw up Wisconsin’s pollinator plan. They insist the link between bee population declines and proper use of their products has not been made.

Neonics can be delivered through spraying, by injection, such as into tree trunks, by drenching the soil around plants and by coating seeds with it before planting.

Seed coating is the biggest factor driving increased use of neonics. In January, a group of farmers, beekeepers and advocates filed a lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency for exempting neonic seed coatings from regulation. The plaintiffs say the lack of regulation will harm pollinators and the environment.

By 2012, virtually all corn seed, and about 30 percent of soybean seed planted in Wisconsin and across the country, was coated with neonics, said Paul Mitchell, a UW-Madison associate professor who co-directs the UW-Extension’s Nutrient and Pest Management Program. Neonic-coated seeds also are widely used on other crops such as potatoes and in lawns and gardens.

Neonics are systemic, meaning they are absorbed and remain in the tissue of the plant. They are also potent neurotoxins. Neonics are chemically designed to attack the nervous system of pest insects that eat any part of a treated plant, causing paralysis and death. 

With widespread reliance on neonics, unintended exposures to beneficial insects such as pollinators can happen.

Seeds coated with neonics have become sort of an insurance policy for many farmers, said Gratton, who along with Christina Locke, a postdoctoral researcher in Gratton’s laboratory, worked on the pollinator plan.

“Ag practices depend on us taming nature. Farmers don’t like variability and uncertainty,” Gratton said.

“With neonics, there is less application since it’s present in the plant the entire season; it’s a one-and-done idea. Overall there is less used, but there are also a lot of unintended consequences.”

Scientists have identified multiple routes by which beneficial insects such as bees suffer unintended exposures to neonics, even if they are not feeding on the treated plants, as a pest might.  

Bees can be exposed through the pollen or nectar of treated plants, by coming into contact with dust kicked up by planting treated seeds, by contacting droplets of water on plants, and by visiting flowers and other plants unintentionally contaminated through neonics’ persistence in soil and water.

It is clear that high enough doses of neonics — such as those that occur from accidental exposures during spraying — can kill bees. Questions about neonics center on lower-level exposures, like those bees might encounter in a field of treated corn or soy.  

Pierre Petelle, a vice president of CropLife Canada, wrote in a 2014 blog post on the industry group’s website that many of the lab studies used to justify restrictions expose bees to “unrealistically high doses of neonics.”

David Flakne, a representative of Syngenta and one of the stakeholders invited by DATCP to contribute to the pollinator plan, said neonics are safe when used as directed. 

“Scientific evidence clearly shows that bees and other pollinators can coexist safely with modern agricultural technology, such as neonic insecticides, when product labels are followed,” Flakne wrote in an email to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Growing evidence of harm

Scientists say while there are multiple causes of bee declines, studies continue to emerge that question whether bees and neonics can safely coexist at field-realistic exposures. By binding to receptors in bees’ brains, some research has found, neonics seem to scramble their sophisticated mental circuitry.

One study of honeybees that were exposed to nonlethal levels of neonics showed they were both more likely to have trouble navigating back to the hive and less likely to survive than unexposed bees. Numerous studies found that both wild and managed bees exposed to neonics showed a reduced ability to find food, weaker brood development, reduced memory and more vulnerability to disease, according to a 2013 paper by European researchers funded by several environmental foundations.

An international task force that examined more than 800 peer-reviewed studies concluded that the widespread use of neonics and a similar systemic insecticide, fipronil, are important contributors to the decades-long trend of declining populations of pollinators and other insects, which are “vital to food security and sustainable development.”

A study funded by the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board and conducted in the state’s Central Sands area detected leaching of neonics into groundwater and found that high-capacity irrigation well water was recycling neonics back onto farmland. The findings raised concerns about how this ongoing, low-level exposure might be affecting “non-target organisms” such as bees, the authors said.

Some neonics are restricted in Europe and are the subject of lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada due to concerns about their impact on pollinator health and lack of sufficient regulation.

The EPA also has suspended approval of new neonic-based insecticides and is re-evaluating neonics currently on the market. The agency in January issued its first of four pollinator risk assessments on the oldest neonic, imidacloprid, which showed it is “a threat to some pollinators” when used in cotton and citrus.

Farmers weigh risks and alternatives

Russell Groves, an insect ecologist and vegetable crop specialist at the UW-Madison Department of Entomology, said farmers continually search for ways to reduce the risk of crop loss due to pests in part to meet consumer demand for low food prices. Groves said federal policies also incentivize larger farms, where natural pest solutions are less practical.

Alan Jewell, a farmer for 42 years with 4,000 acres of corn and soy in Dodgeville, said he is willing to spend a few extra dollars per acre for neonic-coated corn seed to protect it from pests because “grain prices have collapsed … (and) our profit margin doesn’t allow us much wiggle room.”

“Cutworms can kill off 40 to 80 percent of seedlings,” he added. “Then there are wireworms, and all kinds of pests.”

Some farmers, however, are looking for alternatives.

Steve Groff, a farmer and seed dealer in Pennsylvania, said neonics have their place but have been “way overused.” He recently began an experiment with support from Penn State to see if planting neonic-free corn seed would protect the beneficial insects that prey on the slugs that can destroy his corn.  

The experiment was successful, Groff said. “We started seeing that when we planted green, we had less slug pressure.”

By using alternative farming strategies, such as crop rotation, cover cropping and not tilling soil, Groff said he has reduced his insecticide use by 80 percent. He plans to experiment again this year with a larger plot of neonic-free corn seed.

Plan calls for voluntary measures

The 2015 federal plan that encourages states to develop their own pollinator plans has limited discussion about the role of neonics, Gratton and Locke agreed.

“There is probably a reason the White House report includes very little on pesticides,” Gratton said. “Companies that sell insecticides will make a lot of money on seeds. The agrochemical sector is very powerful.”

At the opening of the first stakeholder meeting last year, Mike Murray of DATCP’s pesticide program told the assembled group, “We’re talking about voluntary actions, we’re not on a regulatory track here.”

Donna Gilson, spokesperson for DATCP, also said the agency lacks the resources to do research on pesticides, so it follows EPA’s lead on regulating them.

An EPA analysis of neonic use on soy concluded that “in most cases, there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment.” Yet those findings have spurred no restrictions on the use of neonic-treated seed for soy by the EPA or DATCP. 

For Gratton, a restriction on neonics would raise the concern that farmers might revert to older, more toxic pesticides. “A more nuanced strategy,” Gratton said, “may be both more palatable and get you the same result in terms of protecting pollinators and not impacting yields.”

Crackdown on neonics

Other states and countries have taken a more aggressive approach.

After a number of neonic-related bee death incidents, Oregon banned the application of any product containing the neonics dinotefuran, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin on some flowering trees.

Minnesota’s pollinator plan committed to a review of the risks of neonic use, including negative impacts on pollinators, the development of resistance in targeted pest insects and leaching into soil and water. 

The government of Ontario, Canada, has moved to reduce the use of neonic-treated seed for corn and soybean crops by 80 percent by 2017.

Aimee Code thinks Wisconsin’s plan should include stronger measures.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate to stay quiet when the science is showing that there is an issue with neonics,” said Code, a pesticide expert with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, one of the invited stakeholder organizations.

Code said given the widespread preventative use of neonics, Wisconsin’s plan should include requirements for scouting and monitoring fields to ensure there is a pest problem before coated seeds get planted. 

“We should be promoting verification of need before use within our pesticide regulation,” she said.

For her part, Harriet Behar, the Crawford County farmer and beekeeper, wants to see “a plan with some teeth in it.”

“Neonics have allowed people to ignore good agronomic processes,” she said. “We don’t have to rotate crops anymore. We just kill everything off with neonics. If we make conservation crop rotation a big push in Wisconsin, so farmers don’t have the pest and disease problems they are currently trying to solve with neonics, that would be a big help.”

Companies may already be moving on to the next new pesticide. Critics call it a pesticide shell game; agrochemical companies describe it as innovation. 

“As concerns are raised, companies always have a new product to replace one which is going out,” said Lex Horan, of the advocacy organization Pesticide Action Network, which works to reduce pesticide use.

In fact, DuPont Pioneer recently announced it had developed a new systemic seed treatment called Lumivia for corn pests which, according to company spokeswoman Jane Slusark, has “low to no impact on pollinators.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

FDA to begin testing food for world’s most commonly used pesticide

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will begin testing food for glyphosate, the world’s most commonly used pesticide.

This marks the first time that a U.S. agency will routinely test for glyphosate residue in food. The news follows the release of a U.S. Government Accountability Office report criticizing the FDA for failing to disclose its failure to test for glyphosate in an annual pesticide residue report.

“In the wake of intense scrutiny, the Food and Drug Administration has finally committed to taking this basic step of testing our food for the most commonly used pesticide. It’s shocking that it’s taken so long, but we’re glad it’s finally going to happen,” said Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental advocacy group. “More and more scientists are raising concerns about the effects of glyphosate on human health and the environment. With about 1.7 billion pounds of this pesticide used each year worldwide, the FDA’s data is badly needed to facilitate long-overdue conversations about how much of this chemical we should tolerate in our food.”

Leading scientists published an article about the exploding use of glyphosate around the world in the latest issue of the journal Environmental Health.

In the paper, they point to concerns over rapidly increasing use, outdated science and the World Health Organization’s finding that glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup, is a probable human carcinogen and glyphosate is a leading cause of massive declines in monarch butterflies.

The authors called on regulatory agencies to take a fresh look at the real-world impacts of glyphosate and to start monitoring its levels in people and in food.

“The alarm bell is ringing loud and clear. The current cavalier use of glyphosate, and lax regulation, cannot remain in place,” said Donley. “It’s long past time to start reining in the out-of-control use of this dangerous pesticide in the United States and around the world.” 

Just last week, 35 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy expressing concerns regarding the potential negative health and environmental impacts of a pesticide, Enlist Duo, that combines glyphosate and 2,4-D. EPA is currently reanalyzing its decision to register the dangerous pesticide following a remand order from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Monsanto also is embroiled in a legal battle with California over the state’s move to list glyphosate as a carcinogen under Proposition 65 law.

As the legal battle plays out, a new report from CBD has found that more than half of the glyphosate sprayed in the state was applied in the California’s eight most impoverished counties.

Monsanto wins the Rubber Dodo award for anti-environmental record

Monsanto, producer and seller of Roundup and its toxic active ingredient glyphosate, is the recipient of the Center for Biological Diversity’s 2015 Rubber Dodo Award, given annually to those who have done the most to destroy wild places, species and biological diversity.

Glyphosate is now used in more than 160 countries and more than 1.4 billion pounds are applied each year.

It has been classified as a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization and its heavy use, particularly on herbicide-resistant GMO crops, also developed by Monsanto, is considered a leading cause of the recent, drastic 80 percent decline in monarch butterflies.

Previous Rubber Dodo winners include U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services (2014), the Koch brothers (2013), climate denier James Inhofe (2012), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2011), former BP CEO Tony Hayward (2010), land speculator Michael Winer (2009), Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (2008) and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne (2007).

“The science is increasingly clear that glyphosate is damaging wildlife and putting people at serious risk, yet Monsanto continues to aggressively peddle the stuff to farmers and really any customer it can find,” said Kierán Suckling, the center’s executive director. “It’s hard to fathom the depth of the damage that glyphosate is doing, but its toxic legacy will live on for generations, whether it’s through threatening monarchs with extinction or a heightened risk of cancer for people where it’s spread.”

The center recently released an analysis that found more than half of the glyphosate sprayed in California is applied in the state’s eight most impoverished counties, where the populations are predominantly Hispanic or Latino.

“Those sitting in Monsanto’s boardrooms and corporate offices won’t pay the price for this dangerous pesticide. It’s going to be people on the ground where it’s sprayed,” Suckling said. “This kind of callous pursuit of profits is at the core of what’s driving the loss of wildlife and diversity on a massive scale around the globe.”

More than 15,000 people cast their votes in this year’s Rubber Dodo contest. Other official nominees were Volkswagen, Sen. John McCain, Exxon and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

The award is named for the extinct dodo.

Some background from the Center for Biological Diversity: In 1598 Dutch sailors landing on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius discovered a flightless, 3-foot-tall, extraordinarily friendly bird. Its original scientific name was Didus ineptus. (Contemporary scientists use the less defamatory Raphus cucullatus.) To the rest of the world, it’s the dodo — possibly the most famous extinct species on Earth after the dinosaurs. It evolved over millions of years with no natural predators and eventually lost the ability to fly, becoming a land-based consumer of fruits, nuts and berries. Having never known predators, it showed no fear of humans or the menagerie of animals accompanying them to Mauritius.

Its trusting nature led to its rapid extinction. By 1681 the dodo had vanished, hunted and outcompeted by humans, dogs, cats, rats, macaques and pigs. Humans logged its forest cover while pigs uprooted and ate much of the understory vegetation.

The origin of the name dodo is unclear. It likely came from the Dutch word dodoor, meaning “sluggard,” the Portuguese word doudo, meaning “fool” or “crazy,” or the Dutch word dodaars meaning “plump-arse” (that nation’s name for the little grebe).

The dodo’s reputation as a foolish, ungainly bird derives in part from its friendly naiveté and the very plump captives that were taken on tour across Europe. The animal’s reputation was cemented with the 1865 publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Based on skeleton reconstructions and the discovery of early drawings, scientists now believe that the dodo was a much sleeker animal than commonly portrayed. The rotund European exhibitions were likely produced by overfeeding captive birds.

EPA proposes agricultural ban on pesticide that damages kids’ brains

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to ban all agricultural use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, because of the health risks from contaminated drinking water.

The agency said it would issue a final decision by the end of next year, after taking public comment.

The EPA had already eliminated household uses in home gardens, insect sprays and other products in 2000 — in response to a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups — because the chemical damages the developing brains of children. 

Veena Singla, a scientist with the health program at NRDC, said, “We’ve known for years that chlorpyrifos is dangerous, and that’s why we sued EPA—to take it off the market.  The agency’s announcement today is a huge step in the right direction, but we think there’s enough evidence to ban all its uses now.”

Chlorpyrifos is a toxic chemical sprayed on apples, oranges, broccoli, nuts and scores of other crops.

It’s also used on golf courses.

It is associated with long-lasting neurological damage to children and numerous farmworker poisonings.  Farms in the United States disperse more than 5 million pounds of it each year.

EPA’s decision was the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice, NRDC and Pesticide Action Network, asking EPA to ban chlorpyrifos.

“This is what we have been seeking for years. EPA’s and other independent findings show that chlorpyrifos causes brain damage to children and poisons workers and bystanders,” said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice attorney handling the case. “At long last, the agency is signaling its intention to protect children, workers and their families by banning this hazardous pesticide. It is imperative that EPA move quickly to protect workers and children by finalizing this important rule.”

Buzzkill: The race to save pollinating honeybees

“Christopher Robin, I’ve come to a very important decision: THESE ARE THE WRONG SORTS OF BEES!” Pooh Bear exclaimed after he went up to the honey tree in the 100 Acre Woods.

But they probably were the right sorts of bees — humble, hard-working honeybees.

Today these bees are in peril, and the 100 Acre Woods might be polluted. 

A global battle is underway to protect endangered bees and other pollinators from threats created by people. The network of pollinator protectors is vast — reaching from the United Nations to the backyards of Brookfield and the rooftops of Racine apartment buildings.

And it is varied, involving policymakers and protesters, corporations and commercial growers and a budding body of citizens doing their part by keeping bees and creating habitat.

“What we want is a global colony of people, as many as possible, doing what they can to protect pollinators,” said Rachel Mattison, a gardening enthusiast and environmental activist from Lake Geneva. “Maybe they want to get involved in pollination politics. Maybe they want to plant a garden or get a package and start keeping bees. Something, anything, we can all get involved.”

The collapse

The number of wild bees in the United States, specifically feral honeybees, dramatically declined from 1972 to 2006. Meanwhile, year after year, beekeepers reported the decline or decimation of colonies, a phenomenon now called “colony collapse disorder.”

The Bee Informed Partnership, a collaboration of the Apiary Inspectors of America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, released an annual survey this spring showing beekeepers lost more than 42.1 percent of their colonies over the past year. This is the second-highest annual loss recorded to date.

Beekeepers in Wisconsin and seven other states reported losing more than 60 percent of their colonies. 

“The domestic honeybee and a lot of your native pollinators are under a lot of pressure,” said Wisconsin beekeeper “Little” John Holzwart.

Scientists are looking at the impact of climate change on pollinators. In 2014, an international intergovernmental panel on climate change warned that pollinators faced increased risk of extinction because of global warming.

Scientists also are studying the impact of:

• The proliferation of single-crop farms that reduce the amount of land providing nectar for bees. Most new acres of corn used to be grassland or pasture that supported pollinators.

• Systemic pesticide application, specifically neonicotinoids, which are used on nearly all field corn seed and most soybeans in the Midwest. Honeybees collect and carry nectar and pollen to their hives to provide food throughout the winter. Pesticides, whether applied to seeds or plants, get carried back and contaminate the hive. The bees consume the chemicals as they feed on nectar and pollen.

• Application of fungicides, which are used on field corn and soybeans and, in Wisconsin, on some cranberry bogs and many potato fields. 

• Urbanization and destruction of habitat. Like the homogenization of cropland, developments with sprawling green lawns and no flowering plants leave bees without necessary nutrition.

The plan

In early June, the Obama administration issued its pollinator rescue plan and identified three goals:

• Reduce honeybee colony losses to economically sustainable levels. The administration proposes spending $82.5 million in the next budget year on research to accomplish the goal. Current spending is about $34 million.

• Increase the number of monarch butterflies — they are also important pollinators — to protect the annual migration.

• Restore or enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators in the next five years.

The plan stressed “the quantity and quality of habitat for pollinators” and emphasized an “all hands on deck” approach to promoting pollinator health by engaging citizens and communities and forging public-private partnerships.

“Here, we can do a lot for bees and other pollinators,” University of Maryland entomology professor Dennis van Englesdorp told The AP. He led a federal bee study that found last year’s large loss. “This I think is something to get excited and hopeful about. There is really only one hope for bees and it’s to make sure they spend a good part of the year in safe, healthy environments. The apparent scarcity of areas is what’s worrying. This could change that.”

The president required the plan a year ago in a memorandum calling for a federal strategy to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators — birds, bats, native bees and butterflies — and calling on the EPA to assess the effect of pesticides on bees within 180 days.

The EPA responded in April with a moratorium on new or expanded uses of neonicotinoids while it continues research. And guidance already directs the caretakers of federal lands and facilities — from national parks and interstate corridors to public housing complexes — to acquire seeds and plants from nurseries that do not use systemic insecticides.


However, the administration’s strategy disappointed many in the environmental community, who said the White House isn’t going far enough to halt the use of poisons on the landscape.

“The plan focuses heavily on improving pollinator habitat but is blind to the fact that new habitat will simply become contaminated by insecticides still heavily in use,” said Larissa Walker of the Center for Food Safety, a national nonprofit that promotes sustainable agriculture and safe food. “We can’t just plant more wild flowers near cropland and expect insecticides to stop being a problem.”

“When it comes to pesticides, President Obama and other federal decision makers have passed the buck,” said Lex Horan of the Pesticide Action Network North America.

Two years ago, the European Union banned the three most widely used neonicotinoids based on scientific research showing the chemicals can kill bees outright and make them more vulnerable to pests, pathogens and other stressors.

Studies by Newcastle University and Oxford researchers indicate reducing chemical use may be the only certain way to halt pollinator decline.

Yet, the chemicals continue to be used in the United States.

One study found the pollen bees collected in agricultural fields and brought back to their hives was contaminated with 35 pesticides, according to the University of Wisconsin-Extension. 

Federal legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would require the EPA to suspend the use of some neonicotinoids.

Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental and food-safety groups are pressing nurseries, retailers and institutions to promote bee-friendly plants. Consumer demand for these products is high — more than a million people signed petitions calling upon Lowe’s and Home Depot to stop selling neonicotinoids. 

On June 1, Friends of the Earth and the Pesticide Research Institute issued a report stating that Lowe’s and Home Depot, along with Whole Foods and BJ’s Wholesale Club, have taken steps to eliminate neonicotinoid insecticides from stores. Ace Hardware, the largest retailer-owned landscape cooperative in the world, also has announced a willingness to move away from the products.

“With bees serving as such an essential part of a healthy ecosystem, it’s simply the better choice for the environment and for agriculture to move away from these chemicals,” Scott Williams, an assistant vice president with BJ’s, stated in a news release.

The community

Bee-friendly plants are what consumers will be looking for as they enlist in the National Pollinator Garden Network’s “Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,” an effort to plant a million new gardens by the end of 2016 using sustainable practices. The network involves about two dozen organizations — including Keep America Beautiful, National Wildlife Federation and National Garden Clubs — and their local affiliates. 

“All pollinators are critical to our ecosystems, as well as our nation’s economic well-being,” said Jennifer Tedeschi, COO of the National Gardening Association. “NGA has worked for over 40 years to educate people of all ages about the personal and community benefits of gardening. We are thrilled to be partnering with so many experts in conservation, ecosystems and horticulture to bring this challenge to the American people and engage them in protecting pollinators.”

Mattison said a friend involved with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s campaign educated her about the plight of pollinators and inspired her to plow under her lawn and create a flower garden.

“You plant for diversity, in clusters and for color — native bees, for example, are attracted to blue, purple and yellow blooms,” she said. 

Beekeeper Holzwart, of Sheboygan, also was drafted into the pollinator protector campaign. He became a beekeeper. He started with two hives and, over the years, has kept as many as 25 hives.

Holzwart said another beekeeper, who was selling him honey, nudged him toward the hobby. “He kept encouraging me to get some bees, to get some hives,” Holzwart said. Eight years ago, in the early spring, Holzwart said his friend said, “Now is the time to order bees” and he did. The friend became a mentor and Holzwart became a beekeeper who sells honey online at moonwiseherbs.com, takes calls to remove bees and teaches classes and workshops on beekeeping.

“It’s an exciting hobby,” he said. “But the main goal is to get people aware of the need to save the honeybees.”

Until recently, Holzwart kept hives at two locations in the country and also at his home in Sheboygan.

“A lot of people keep hives in the city,” he said. “City bees will actually out-produce country bees two to one because, in the city, there is more diversity. Out in the country, well, there is a lot of open wasteland.”

Recently, he and his partner, Linda Conroy, bought a farm, where the hives were moved. “We really are plant people and it seemed like a natural evolution to us,” Holzwart said. “We like to live close to the earth.”

Conroy is a herbalist and Holzwart, who made auto parts for 12 years until the Sheboygan factory where he worked closed down, said they plan to grow herbs, as well as plant an orchard. “Bees are pretty necessary to ensure pollination,” he said.

Did you know?

> There are 20,000 known species of bees and 4,000 known species in North America. The best-known species is the European honeybee, and there are 29 subspecies of the honeybee.

> The honeybee was named Wisconsin’s state insect in 1977.

> Bumblebee species are eight times more efficient than honeybees at pollinating some crops, like blueberries.

> Bees are found on every continent except Antarctica.

> Bees feed on nectar, their energy source, and pollen, their protein source.

> Some bees are solitary, others — like honeybees — live in communities or colonies.

> Africanized bees in the Western Hemisphere are descended from queen bees accidentally released in 1957 in Brazil from hives operated by a scientist who interbred European and south African honeybees.

Promoting pollination

An estimated one-third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination — mostly bees, especially European honeybees. These bees are both wild and domestic.

Summer reading

It turns out cities are perfect for beekeeping — rich with diverse flora for bees to pollinate. So Megan Paska learned when she began her urban garden and hive in Brooklyn, New York. In The Rooftop Beekeeper: A Scrappy Guide to Keeping Urban Honeybees, Paska walks readers through the details of getting to know honeybees, starting a hive, harvesting honey and finding a colony of beekeeping friends.

The book, illustrated by Masako Kubo and photographed by Alex Brown, also contains recipes for drinks, meals and home remedies made from honey, including a recipe for an icy Country Girl Julep and a spa-like clay facial mask.

— Lisa Neff



WHO labels popular weed-killer a probable carcinogen

The most widely used type of weed-killer in the United States has been labeled a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The decision by the France-based cancer research arm of the World Health Organization, which considered the status of five insect and weed killers including glyphosate, which is used globally in industrial farming.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which makes its own determinations, said it would consider the French agency’s evaluation.

The French agency has four levels of risks for possible cancer-causing agents: known carcinogens, probable or possible carcinogens, not classifiable and probably not carcinogenic. Glyphosate now falls in the second level of concern.

The new classification is aimed mainly at industrial use of glyphosate. Its use by home gardeners is not considered a risk. Glyphosate is in the same category of risk as things like anabolic steroids and shift work. The decision was published online late last week in the journal, Lancet Oncology.

According to the French agency, glyphosate is used in more than 750 different herbicide products and its use has been detected in the air during spraying, in water and in food. Experts said there was “limited evidence” in humans that the herbicide can cause non-Hodgkins lymphoma and there is convincing evidence that glyphosate can also cause other forms of cancer in rats and mice. IARC’s panel said glyphosate has been found in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, showing the chemical has been absorbed by the body.

Monsanto and other producers of glyphosate-containing herbicides, strongly disagreed with the decision. “All labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health,” said Monsanto’s Phil Miller, global head of regulatory and government affairs, in a statement.

The EPA’s 2012 assessment of glyphosate concluded that it met the statutory safety standards and that the chemical could “continue to be used without unreasonable risks to people or the environment.”

The French agency’s experts said the cancer risks of the weed killer were mostly from occupational exposure.

“I don’t think home use is the issue,” said Kate Guyton of IARC. “It’s agricultural use that will have the biggest impact. For the moment, it’s just something for people to be conscious of.”

Scientists urge White House action to protect bees

More than 100 scientists called on leaders of President Barack Obama’s Pollinator Health Task Force to take action on pesticides to protect and promote healthy populations of bees and other pollinators.

“Bees have been quietly pollinating our crops for millennia, but now they need our help. It is vitally important that we take steps to reduce exposure of bees and other wildlife to these systemic, persistent neurotoxins,” said Dave Goulson, a bee expert and biology professor at the University of Sussex. He is a leader of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s global Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.

The 108 scientists — whose areas of expertise include entomology, agronomy, ecology, ecotoxicology — called on task force co-chairs Gina McCarthy and Tom Vilsack to place a moratorium on use of neonicotinoid pesticides in the United States and to increase investment, research and funding for growers to adopt alternatives.

Almost a year after Europe implemented a moratorium on neonicotinoids, federal policymakers in the United States have yet to take any substantive action.

Bee declines across the country have continued at unprecedented rates — more than 30 percent annually —with significant ramifications for beekeepers’ livelihoods, crops that rely on pollination and the agricultural economy. EPA has refused to finish its review for clothianidin and thiamethoxam, as well as other neonicotinoids, before 2018.

“The president’s task force should listen to the body of science that links pesticides to bee harm and bee declines,” said Jim Frazier, an entomology professor at Pennsylvania State University and commercial beekeeper advisor who specializes in chemical ecology. “These systemic pesticides are not only lethal to pollinators, but at low doses can disrupt critical brain functions and reduce their immunity — leaving them susceptible to common pathogens. The weight of the scientific evidence certainly incriminates neonicotinoids, in line with the 2013 European Food Safety Agency’s review of 800-plus publications that led to the current moratorium on certain neonicotinoids.”

The IUCN’s June 2014 “Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA)” — a review of over 800 studies by 29 independent researchers — documents significant harms to bees and ecosystems from neonicotinoids. Scientists submitting the letter today join others around the globe calling for new, dramatic restrictions on bee-harming pesticides in the United States and beyond. The report also suggests that the current regulatory system has failed to capture the range of impacts of these pesticide products. And it suggests the impacts on ecosystems can, in turn, have even greater impacts on food and farming in the United States.  

“Native bees are important contributors to crop pollination – not only do they serve as our insurance policy when supplies of honey bees are low or variable, but they often contribute as much or more to fruit and vegetable pollination as honey bees do. They can complement the actions of honey bees by flying under different weather conditions or visiting different parts of the plant – leading to more production. In all of these ways, they enhance farmer’s abilities to get their crops pollinated,” said Claire Kremen, PhD, a conservation biology professor at University of California – Berkeley, and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute. “Policymakers must protect native pollinator habitat on farms and ensure that their populations are not damaged due to harmful pesticides.”

As more studies link pesticides to bee harm and declines, more studies show that neonicotinoid seed treatments aren’t serving farmers or promoting pollination. In a study released in October, the EPA noted, “Published data indicate that in most cases there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment.” 

Neonicotinoids are an increasingly widely used class of systemic insecticides that are absorbed by plants and transported throughout the plant’s vascular tissue, making the plant potentially toxic to insects. They are commonly used in commodity agriculture as seed treatments, and also as foliar and granular treatments in nurseries. Neonicotinoids including imidacloprid (Bayer), clothianidin (Bayer), thiamethoxam (Syngenta) and dinotefuran (Mitsui Chemicals) first came into heavy use in the mid-2000s. Additional systemic pesticides that similarly disrupt brain function like sulfoxaflor (Dow) are slated to come to market soon.