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Killer Pesticides Never Actually Helped Our Crops, Says EPA

Oct 21, 2014 10:35 PM EDT
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Well this is going to be embarrassing for everyone involved... Remember those dangerous pesticides that experts are blaming for the tragic mass death of our pollinators? It turns out that they aren't even all that good at their job, leaving coated crops no better off than if they were left untreated.

That's at least according to a new report recently released by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or "neonics," are commonly used to coat the seeds of commercially sold plants and a great deal of the United State's main cash crops.

A study released back in June revealed how this coating was actually still leaving the deadly pesticide present in plants years after the seed was initially treated, poisoning our bees in the process and directly leading to Colony Collapse Disease (CCD).

Studies prior to that named CCD - a disease that causes wintering bees to wake and suddenly abandon their hives in what looks like mass suicides - the likely primary cause of a major decline in US pollinator populations first noticed in 2006.

Once this information was disclosed, a good number of retailers, including BJ's Wholesale Club, swore off any plants that had been treated with neonics prior to winding up on their shelves. Similarly, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced back in July that it would be "phasing out" neonics - both immediately ceasing any neonic related work in their wildlife refuges, and removing any plants that were likely to have been pre-treated with the pesticide. This work is expected to be complete by 2016.

Now, according to the new EPA report, this all could have been avoided had farmers simply been made aware of how ineffective neonic coatings actually are as a pesticide. The report suggests that agricultural industries have been wasting their time and money on the product even before it was found to be harmful to bees.

The report details an in-depth analysis of the benefits of neonicotinoid seed treatments for insect control in soybeans in particular. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : Flickr: takese) A soybean field

"We have made the review of neonicotinoid pesticides a high priority," Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a recent statement. "In our analysis of the economic benefits of this use we concluded that, on a national scale, US soybean farmers see little or no benefit from neonicotinoid seed treatments."

Specifically, the analysis revealed that there is no increase in soybean yield when using most neonicotinoid seed treatments, compared to using no pest control at all. It also found that alternative insecticides applied as sprays - often used in conjunction with neonic seed coating - worked just as effectively alone.

What's worse, these alternatives were found to be just as costly, if not cheaper than neonic coatings.

"The law requires EPA to consider the benefits of using pesticides as well as the risk," the report invesitgators said, adding that "neonicotinoid seed treatment could provide an insurance benefit against sporadic and unpredictable insect pests, but this potential benefit is not likely to be large or widespread throughout the United States."

The moral of the story? There's really no happy way to put this; US bees may have died for nothing.

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