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The journal Nature is out with a one-two punch of studies that carry bad news for our besieged bee populations. The first finds strong evidence that the class of insecticides long suspected to be harming the pollinators is indeed affecting the growth and reproductive abilities of wild bees. And the second finds that bees are getting hooked on the chemicals, and actively seeking them out.

New studies strengthen our understanding of neonicotinoids’ harmful impact on bees

Victorino

Victorino began picking strawberries, blueberries, grapes and other seasonal crops on the West Coast 20 years ago when he was 18. Today, he has cataracts and wishes to keep his 18-year-old son out of the fields.

I’ve been exposed to pesticides many times. Now, I try to protect myself because I know better than to count on anyone else to look after us. Just today, the field next to where we were working was being sprayed. We asked, “Hey, what are you doing?” They replied, “Don’t worry. It is just sulfur.” Because of the lack of enforcement, even if we did complain, no one would investigate or take action.

When the wind is blowing in my direction and I see a drift coming towards me, I walk away and cover my nose and mouth with my sweatshirt. Even if they get mad at me for walking away, I am simply not going to put myself in harm’s way anymore.

We are forced to work in toxic fields, because the supervisors aren’t being supervised. In the fields, my eyes are always irritated. I have cataracts now, and I can’t afford to get my eyes fixed. Many people in the fields have damaged eyes.

Photo essay originally published at Earthjustice.org: The Toxic Secret of California’s Salad Bowl

The farmworkers who help bring fresh fruit and produce to your table aren’t protected by the safety standards most workers in the U.S. enjoy. They rely on the Worker Protection Standard, an outdated rule the EPA claims it will revise before the Obama Administration leaves office. Take Action!

Photo by Dave Getzschman for Earthjustice

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May 27 marks the 107th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Louise Carson, the environmentalist whose research led to the 1972 banning, in the United States, of [DDT].

The American-born marine biologist and writer is best known for her 1962 book Silent Spring, which is credited with launching the global contemporary environmental movement.

Silent Spring focuses on the impact of synthetic pesticides on the environment—with the title referring to the absence of birdsong across swathes of agricultural landscape following the widespread introduction of pesticides and other intensive farming practices.

The book sparked a public outcry, bringing to widespread attention the effects of these chemicals both on the ecosystem and on human health.

Although her research was attacked by chemical companies, a decade after her book was published, and years after her death, her book led to a nationwide ban of DDT, a colourless and crystalline organochloride with insecticidal properties, and other pesticides. Silent Spring demonstrated that these pesticides could cause cancer and that their agricultural use was a threat to wildlife, particularly to birds.

Reprinted from The Independent

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At long, long long last, the Environmental Protection Agency is taking on neonicatinoids, the class of pesticides implicated in the mass die-offs of bees. The agency announced Thursday that it will be restricting the future manufacture and use of products containing the pesticides; in letters sent to companies that apply those products outdoors, it warned that it likely won’t be approving new permits for their use until it can determine that they won’t cause “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.”

The agency took a first step toward protecting pollinators, but critics say much more still needs to be done

David Suzuki: Meet flupyradifurone, the new F-word

HAVE YOU HEARD of flupyradifurone? Probably not, unless you work for the federal government agency poised to approve this new pesticide for use in Canada. But take note: This new F-word is bad news for bees.

Flupyradifurone is an insect-killing systemic pesticide similar to the controversial neonicotinoid, or neonic, family of bee-killing chemicals. When applied to seeds or soil, it’s absorbed by plant roots and travels to leaves, flowers, pollen and nectar, making the plant potentially toxic to insects.

This past summer, the international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides analyzed 800 scientific studies and concluded that systemic pesticides like neonics are harming bees, butterflies, birds, and worms and should be phased out globally. The European Union banned three neonics for “crops attractive to bees”, but the European Environment Agency says that’s just a starting point, and recommends regulators look at similar pesticides and take into account potential harmful effects on aquatic invertebrates, birds, and other insects. The EEA also found “mounting scientific evidence has been systematically suppressed for many years and early warnings were ignored.”

Inexplicably, Canada’s Pest Management Regulation Agency has yet to respond to the Task Force findings and now wants to approve a new systemic pesticide. What’s especially troubling is that, in its description, the PMRA states flupyradifurone “may pose a risk” to bees, birds, worms, spiders, small mammals, and aquatic bugs, and that it doesn’t readily break down in water, air, or sunlight and may carry over to the following growing season. When it enters streams, rivers, and wetlands, “it may persist for a long time.”

Like neonics, flupyradifurone is a nerve poison, acutely toxic to bees if ingested. As in the past, we don’t fully understand the cumulative effects of the increasing amounts of today’s insecticides, pesticides, fungicides, and other chemicals being applied to crops across the country.

Neonicotinoids are showing up more frequently and in higher concentrations than the harmful chemicals they replaced. A study last year found 90 percent of Saskatchewan prairie potholes contained residual neonics in the spring, before farmers planted their fields. Research from the U.S. Midwest found neonics in all 79 samples taken from nine rivers. Similar results have been found in wetlands, streams, and rivers in the southwest U.S., Georgia and California.

It’s not even clear whether the widespread use of neonic seed treatments increases agricultural yields. A recent report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding soy crop treatments concluded, “these seed treatments provide little or no overall benefits to soybean production in most situations. 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.”

The European Environment Agency also found a 2004 ban on neonicotinoid chemicals by France for sunflower and maize crops hasn’t negatively affected productivity. In fact, yields were higher in 2007 than they’d been in a decade.

You’d think we’d learn from past experience with persistent and bioaccumulative pesticides like DDT and organophosphates, and the more recent research on neonicotinoids. DDT was widely used until Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring drew attention to its negative impacts on ecosystems, wildlife and humans. Many, but not all, organophosphate pesticides have also been pulled from widespread use because we learned their neurotoxic effects posed serious risks to humans and wildlife.

Rather than approving new pesticides that may harm pollinators, birds, and other animals, including humans, we need better ways to protect crops. A recent report, “Alternatives to neonicotinoid insecticides for pest control”, published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research, suggests further research and methods including “diversifying crop rotations, altering the timing of planting, tillage and irrigation, using less sensitive crops in infested areas, applying biological control agents,” and other lower-risk alternatives.

We need to stop contaminating the environment with neonics and related systemic pesticides. Approving flupyradifurone would take us in the wrong direction. Canada’s Pest Management Regulation Agency is accepting comments on flupyradifurone approval until November 3. You can submit through the PMRA or David Suzuki Foundation websites.

Putting bees and ecosystem functioning at risk endangers us all. It’s time to find a better way.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation communications specialist Jode Roberts. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

The rise of the strawberry.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

Strawberry shortcake, chocolate covered strawberries, strawberry daiquiris, strawberry ice cream, and strawberries in your cereal. Just delicious combinations of strawberries and things? Of course not.

According to an investigative report at the Guardian, in the first half of the 1900s, Americans didn’t eat nearly as many strawberries as they do now. There weren’t actually as many strawberries to eat. They’re a fragile crop, more prone than others to insects and unpredictable weather.

In the mid-1950s, though, scientists at the University of California began experimenting with a poison called chloropicrin. Originally used as a toxic gas in World War I, scientists had learned that it was quite toxic to fungus, weeds, parasites, bacteria, and insects. By the 1960s, they were soaking the soil underneath strawberries with the stuff. Nearly every strawberry field in California — a state that produces 80% of our strawberries — was being treated with chloropicrin or a related chemical, methyl bromide.

In the meantime, a major grower had collaborated with the University, creating heartier varieties of strawberries and ones that could be grown throughout the year. These developments doubled the strawberry crop. This was more strawberries than California — and the country — had ever seen. The supply now outpaced the demand.

Enter: Strawberry Shortcake.

Strawberry Shortcake was invented by American Greetings, the greeting card company. She was created in cahoots with the strawberry growers association. They made a deal, just one part of a massive marketing campaign to raise the profile of the strawberry.

The head of the association at the time, Dave Riggs, aggressively marketed tie-ins with other products, too: Bisquick, Jello, Corn Flakes, and Cheerios. Cool Whip still has a strawberry on its container and its website is absolutely dotted with the fruit.

Riggs went to the most popular women’s magazines, too — Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, and Good Housekeeping — and provided them with recipe ideas. It was an all out strawberry assault on America.

It worked. “Today,” according to the Guardian, “Americans eat four times as many fresh strawberries as they did in the 1970s.” We think it’s because we like them, but is it?

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Pesticides are designed to kill and they kill more than target creatures.

by Audubon Society of Rhode Island

So, I was checking my voicemail this morning and there was one from a caller who said that she had her trees sprayed for caterpillars – trees occupied by three bird feeders - and now, she is upset that there are no birds at all for her to watch. She wonders if the spray could possibly have something to do with it. (Yes, spraying pesticides on your trees will have an effect on the songbirds.) 

It is not uncommon for us to get inquiries such as these, and it is with great frustration and sadness that we often are faced with educating people after the damage has been done. So, please let me take a moment to reach out to our Facebook friends and family and be proactive about this topic. 

All pesticides are designed to kill. Some are very targeted, such as B. T. (Bacillus thuringiensis) which primarily affects Lepidopterans (moths and butterflies), but most pesticides are broad and indiscriminate. 

When you make the choice to treat your house or landscape with rodenticides, grub treatment, mosquito foggers, or any other pesticide treatment, you have an intent of ridding yourself of a specific creature that you find distasteful.
However, nothing in nature exists in a vacuum. Everything is connected. When you affect one population, it has a ripple effect across the populations that depend upon and coexist with it.
When you spray insecticide, for instance, it does not just kill the ‘bugs’ you don’t like, but kills all insects, including honeybees, butterflies and ladybugs. Likewise, when you spray, the insects do not simply disappear off the face of the earth. Many live a short time before they perish. 
In this time, the poisoned creature may be consumed by natural predators, like songbirds, small mammals and other insects. Pesticides may have a direct toxicity to these animals or may build up in their fat or blood and cause illness or death over time. Even so-called “green” chemicals are still intended to kill, and though they may be derived from natural sources or biodegrade quickly, they are still highly toxic to you and other organisms. 

Friends, it is so very important in this day and age, with the steady decline of bird populations and the utter devastation of pollinator populations that we humans take a serious, proactive look at the choices we make and the practices we support – either directly or indirectly. It is vital that we do not go blindly into the world, but make ourselves informed and educated about products and practices and about science, industry and nature.
Here at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, we very much want to help people become educated and able to make informed choices. We are here to answer your questions and point you in the direction of reliable and scientifically accurate information. But we also encourage you to think and question BEFORE you act. Your actions have consequences. Thanks for listening!
(Photo Credit http://www.yorku.ca/bstutch/research.htm)

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How did dangerous pesticides become the foundation of California’s strawberry industry? Our new stop-motion animation explains.

For the full story, read our investigation: The Dark Side of the Strawberry

Entomovectoring Research is the Bee’s Knees

Brown rot, a disease caused by the fungus Monilinia fructicola, is a major problem for cherry farmers in Australia. It can be prevented by spraying cherry blossoms with a fungicide, but that’s very costly. In fact, spraying costs around $150 million a year, not to mention the fact that run-off could have devastating environmental impacts, contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees.

Enter Dr. Katja Hogendoorn, a postdoctoral research associate with the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food, and Wine. Rather than using insecticides, Dr. Hogendoorn and her team have adopted a technique called “entomovectoring” (yes, literally “insect-moving”) to stop the spread of brown rot by using bees.

The process is actually pretty simple. On their way out of their hive, bees are dusted with a biological control agent that contains spores of a parasitic fungus. These spores get captured in the bees’ body hair and, in a process startlingly similar to pollination, get left behind on whatever flowers the bees visit. These spores then prevent brown rot from colonizing the flower, allowing for a much more accurate and eco-friendly method of fungus prevention. Entomovectoring is currently used in Europe to control grey mold growth in strawberries, but this is the first time it has ever been used in Australia and also the first time in the world it has been used on cherries.

Hopefully, this leap forward in agricultural science will allow for benefits to bees as well as humans. Bee numbers have been depleting at an alarming rate in recent years because of the widespread use of pesticides and fungicides, which lower bees’ immune responses and cause an easy target for parasites. If entomovectoring is adopted around the world, that means a lot more farmers may begin keeping bees, and a lot fewer pesticides will be used. And that can only bring good things to our buzzing friend, the bee.

To read more, please click on the picture above.

If you’re interested in reading the original paper about bees being used to prevent grey mold in European strawberries: http://statisticalconsulting.org/Shafir.pdf

If you’re interested in learning more about Colony Collapse Disorder: http://qz.com/107970/scientists-discover-whats-killing-the-bees-and-its-worse-than-you-thought/

Submitted by Nick V., Discoverer.

Edited by Margaret G.

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So why are bees dying?

A lot of you may be aware that in recent years a large number of bee colonies in US and other parts of the world have collapsed. We’re only beginning to understand why this may be, and it is becoming clear that the destruction of bee colonies will have a large impact on the survival of the human race due to our reliance on bees for the pollination of many of the crops we use as food. 

If it grows in the (heavily chemically enhanced) ground, it’s probably “okay”.

6 Surprising Realities of the Legal Weed Industry

#5. The “Safe, All-Natural Drug” Could Actually Be Full of Serious Toxins

Nearly every farmer and trimmer I spoke with reported using (or smelling) pesticides on their weed. This stuff is very literally money that you grow: Farmers aren’t about to take the risk of losing money to a bunch of bugs. Tests performed on dispensary weed by the Los Angeles attorney’s office found extremely high levels of the pesticide bifenthrin in two out of three strains they studied. With pesticides come dead bug parts, which have to be picked out of the buds. And, by the way, those hands picking dead stuff out of your pot? They aren’t particularly clean either. Trimmers seldom use gloves, and when you’ve got a bunch of people crammed in a cabin in the woods all winter, some of them will get sick.

Read More

Study finds association between maternal exposure to agricultural pesticides, autism in offspring

Pregnant women who lived in close proximity to fields and farms where chemical pesticides were applied experienced a two-thirds increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental delay, a study by researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute has found. The associations were stronger when the exposures occurred during the second and third trimesters of the women’s pregnancies.

The large, multisite California-based study examined associations between specific classes of pesticides, including organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates, applied during the study participants’ pregnancies and later diagnoses of autism and developmental delay in their offspring. It is published online today in Environmental Health Perspectives.

“This study validates the results of earlier research that has reported associations between having a child with autism and prenatal exposure to agricultural chemicals in California,” said lead study author Janie F. Shelton, a UC Davis graduate student who now consults with the United Nations. “While we still must investigate whether certain sub-groups are more vulnerable to exposures to these compounds than others, the message is very clear: Women who are pregnant should take special care to avoid contact with agricultural chemicals whenever possible.”

California is the top agricultural producing state in the nation, grossing $38 billion in revenue from farm crops in 2010. Statewide, approximately 200 million pounds of active pesticides are applied each year, most of it in the Central Valley, north to the Sacramento Valley and south to the Imperial Valley on the California-Mexico border. While pesticides are critical for the modern agriculture industry, certain commonly used pesticides are neurotoxic and may pose threats to brain development during gestation, potentially resulting in developmental delay or autism.

The study was conducted by examining commercial pesticide application using the California Pesticide Use Report and linking the data to the residential addresses of approximately 1,000 participants in the Northern California-based Childhood Risk of Autism from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study. The study includes families with children between 2 and 5 diagnosed with autism or developmental delay or with typical development. It is led by principal investigator Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a MIND Institute researcher and professor and vice chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at UC Davis. The majority of study participants live in the Sacramento Valley, Central Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Twenty-one chemical compounds were identified in the organophosphate class, including chlorpyrifos, acephate and diazinon. The second most commonly applied class of pesticides was pyrethroids, one quarter of which was esfenvalerate, followed by lambda-cyhalothrin permethrin, cypermethrin and tau-fluvalinate. Eighty percent of the carbamates were methomyl and carbaryl.

For the study, researchers used questionnaires to obtain study participants’ residential addresses during the pre-conception and pregnancy periods. The addresses then were overlaid on maps with the locations of agricultural chemical application sites based on the pesticide-use reports to determine residential proximity. The study also examined which participants were exposed to which agricultural chemicals.

“We mapped where our study participants’ lived during pregnancy and around the time of birth. In California, pesticide applicators must report what they’re applying, where they’re applying it, dates when the applications were made and how much was applied,” Hertz-Picciotto said. “What we saw were several classes of pesticides more commonly applied near residences of mothers whose children developed autism or had delayed cognitive or other skills.”

The researchers found that during the study period approximately one-third of CHARGE Study participants lived in close proximity – within 1.25 to 1.75 kilometers – of commercial pesticide application sites. Some associations were greater among mothers living closer to application sites and lower as residential proximity to the application sites decreased, the researchers found.

Organophosphates applied over the course of pregnancy were associated with an elevated risk of autism spectrum disorder, particularly for chlorpyrifos applications in the second trimester. Pyrethroids were moderately associated with autism spectrum disorder immediately prior to conception and in the third trimester. Carbamates applied during pregnancy were associated with developmental delay.

Exposures to insecticides for those living near agricultural areas may be problematic, especially during gestation, because the developing fetal brain may be more vulnerable than it is in adults. Because these pesticides are neurotoxic, in utero exposures during early development may distort the complex processes of structural development and neuronal signaling, producing alterations to the excitation and inhibition mechanisms that govern mood, learning, social interactions and behavior.

“In that early developmental gestational period, the brain is developing synapses, the spaces between neurons, where electrical impulses are turned into neurotransmitting chemicals that leap from one neuron to another to pass messages along. The formation of these junctions is really important and may well be where these pesticides are operating and affecting neurotransmission,” Hertz-Picciotto said.

Research from the CHARGE Study has emphasized the importance of maternal nutrition during pregnancy, particularly the use of prenatal vitamins to reduce the risk of having a child with autism. While it’s impossible to entirely eliminate risks due to environmental exposures, Hertz-Picciotto said that finding ways to reduce exposures to chemical pesticides, particularly for the very young, is important.

“We need to open up a dialogue about how this can be done, at both a societal and individual level,” she said. “If it were my family, I wouldn’t want to live close to where heavy pesticides are being applied.”