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WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2016— A new report released today by Center for Food Safety (CFS), Net Loss—Economic Efficacy and Costs of Neonicotinoid Insecticides Used as Seed Coatings: Updates from the United States and Europe, shows that the economic and environmental losses associated with widespread overuse of certain pesticide seed coatings greatly outweigh potential gains. The report is an update to CFS’s 2013 report Heavy Costs. It examines the “gross overuse” of neonicotinoids, or “neonics”, as prophylactic insecticidal seed coatings, which have long been recognized as causing both acute honey bee kills and chronic long-term damages to colonies and to beekeeper livelihoods. The report comes in advance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) completion of its registration reviews for several neonicotinoid chemicals, during which time the agency will release new risk assessments and decide whether to cancel or modify current uses of the chemicals.
“Published studies continue to show minimal efficacy and often very serious harm from broad application of neonicotinoid seed coatings. It is shocking that EPA continues to allow pesticidal soybean seed coatings in particular, as the evidence is strong – including from EPA’s own analysis – that in most cases they are not financially justified,” said Peter Jenkins, Counsel at Center for Food Safety and author of the report.
The Net Loss report presents numerous studies that show farmers’ yields for common crops do not increase with the use of neonic seed coatings. This is confirmed by comparing crop production in the European Union, which banned most of the neonic seed coatings in 2013. The production of those crops did not suffer and, for most of the years since the 2013 ban, production has actually been higher than it was before.
The report summarizes 15 key, recently published studies from 2015 and 2016 on harm to honey bees, wild bees, water quality, butterfly populations, and other impacts associated with coated seeds, as well as with other neonic uses. To curb the extensive damage from overuse of neonics as presented in the report, CFS recommends that EPA adopt a moratorium on their prophylactic use as crop seed coatings, with an immediate focus on coated soybean seeds. CFS further asserts that the E.U.’s neonic ban should be continued.
“We shouldn’t have to keep proving to EPA that the well-being of bees, beekeepers, waterways and the broader environment has been devastated by the systemic overuse of neonics. It is EPA’s job to properly regulate these seed coatings and to thoroughly weigh their costs and benefits before approving them – both of which the agency has routinely failed to do. This report should be a wake-up call for the EPA, as it is high time the agency puts a stop to these unnecessary and destructive uses of neonics,” said Larissa Walker, Pollinator Program Director at Center for Food Safety.
Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides designed to damage the central nervous system of insects, causing tremors, paralysis and death at very low doses. Since the mid-2000s, their use through various methods has skyrocketed. Methods include sprays, soil drenches, tree injections and others. However, by far their greatest use in terms of U.S. land area affected is as crop seed coatings – a process by which agrichemicals are mixed together with large batches of seeds in order to coat them before the seeds are planted. Neonicotinoids persist in soil and are readily transported via air, dust and water both within and outside the planted fields. It has been known for several years that these chemicals can kill or weaken more than just the targeted pests. Non-target harm can occur to beneficial invertebrates, as well as to birds and other wildlife, through both direct and indirect effects.