France has taken a radical step towards protecting its dwindling bee population by becoming the first country in Europe to ban all five pesticides researchers believe are killing off the insects.1 The ban has been met with the applause of beekeepers and harsh criticism by farmers.
Neonicotinoid pesticides sometimes called “neonics,” have been found to pose a risk to wild bees and honeybees according to assessments released by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in early 2018. EFSA’s review of “a substantial amount of data” found that “in many cases bees foraging on the treated crop in the field as well as in its vicinity are likely to be exposed to harmful levels of the neonicotinoid pesticides. This is because pollen and nectar of the treated crop contain pesticide residues, and plants in the vicinity can also be contaminated by dust drifting away from the field.”2
France’s ban covers all five of the neonic pesticides used by farmers (clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, thiacloprid, and acetamiprid). The ban covers use in agricultural fields as well as inside greenhouses. This move is more comprehensive than the European Union’s late 2018 ban of three of the pesticides.1 These bans respond to evidence that pesticides are contributing to “colony collapse disorder,” that has seen bee populations decline by 90% in some areas. Bee colonies also battle threats from mites, viruses, and fungi.1
Neonics get their name from their basic chemistry that is similar to nicotine. They are what’s known as a systemic pesticide, often used as a seed treatment, that travels through a plant’s vascular system, finding its way into all plant tissue, including nectar and pollen.3
According to the National Research Council: “about three-quarters of the more than 240,000 species of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators—insects, birds, bats, and other animals—to various degrees to carry pollen from the male to the female parts of flowers for reproduction. Pollinators are vital to agriculture because most fruit, vegetable, seed crops and other crops that provide fiber, drugs, and fuel are pollinated by animals. Bee-pollinated forage and hay crops, such as alfalfa and clover, also are used to feed the animals that supply meat and dairy products.”4
The Telegraph reports that the United Nations has warned that 40% of invertebrate pollinators, especially bees and butterflies, risk global extinction.1
Here’s an excellent video on how pesticides are causing colony collapse in bees and the effect of chemicals from fracking:
What Can Home Gardeners Do To Avoid Neonicotinoids?
Researchers from Ohio State University suggest that while much attention focuses on agricultural use of pesticides, it is also important to reduce risk to pollinators in urban settings. This is especially true as the “interface between urban and rural environments become more ambiguous.”5
A first line of defense on behalf of bees is to buy organic seeds. For home gardeners who use starter plants, it is important to find out if they have been treated with neonics. Ask the staff in the garden department of any place you buy starter plants whether they were treated with neonics. Home Depot pledged to phase out the use of neonics on the plants they sell by the end of 2018. Lowe’s has pledged a similar ban by 2019.3
Michigan State University’s agricultural extension service offers this advice: If you purchase perennials and flowering trees, remove the flowers during the first summer after planting. Also, when you bring home new plants, you can flush some neonicotinoid residue that is not tightly bound to organic matter in soil by running water into plant containers for ten minutes after the first water emerges through bottom holes. Avoid spraying insecticides in the yard and garden; never spray flower blossoms. Instead, use insecticidal soaps.6