Category Archives: Pesticides

The Playbook for Poisoning the earth

The Intercept – Jan 8, 2020 – Lee Fang

Dennis vanEngelsdorp.
Photo: David Yellen

In September 2009, over 3,000 bee enthusiasts from around the world descended on the city of Montpellier in southern France for Apimondia — a festive beekeeper conference filled with scientific lectures, hobbyist demonstrations, and commercial beekeepers hawking honey. But that year, a cloud loomed over the event: bee colonies across the globe were collapsing, and billions of bees were dying.

Bee declines have been observed throughout recorded history, but the sudden, persistent and abnormally high annual hive losses had gotten so bad that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had commissioned two of the world’s most well-known entomologists — Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a chief apiary inspector in Pennsylvania, then studying at Penn State University, and Jeffrey Pettis, then working as a government scientist — to study the mysterious decline. They posited that there must be an underlying factor weakening bees’ immune systems.

At Le Corum, a conference center and opera house, the pair discussed their findings. They had fed bees with extremely small amounts of neonicotinoids, or neonics, the most commonly used class of insecticides in the world. Neonics are, of course, meant to kill insects, but they are marketed as safe for insects that aren’t being directly targeted. VanEngelsdorp and Pettis found that even at nonlethal doses, the bees in the trial became much more vulnerable to fungal infection. Bees carrying an infection will often fly off to die, a virtuous form of suicide designed to protect the larger hive from contagion.

“We exposed whole colonies to very low levels of neonicotinoids in this case, and then challenged bees from those colonies with Nosema, a pathogen, a gut pathogen,” said Pettis, speaking to filmmaker Mark Daniels in his documentary, “The Strange Disappearance of the Bees,” at Apimondia. “And we saw an increase, even if we fed the pesticide at very low levels — an increase in Nosema levels — in direct response to the low-level feeding of neonicotinoids.”

The dosages of the pesticide were so miniscule, said vanEngelsdorp, that it was “below the limit of detection.” The only reason they knew the bees had consumed the neonicotinoids, he added, was “because we exposed them.”

Bee health depends on a variety of synergistic factors, the scientists were careful to note. But in this study, Pettis said, they were able to isolate “one pesticide and one pathogen and we clearly see the interaction.”

The evidence was mounting. Shortly after vanEngelsdorp and Pettis revealed their findings, a number of French researchers produced a nearly identical study, feeding minute amounts of the same pesticide to bees, along with a control group. The study produced results that echoed what the Americans had found.

Drifting clouds of neonicotinoid dust from planting operations caused a series of massive bee die-offs in northern Italy and the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany. Studies have shown neonicotinoids impaired bees’ ability to navigate and forage for food, weakened bee colonies, and made them prone to infestation by parasitic mites.

In 2013, the European Union called for a temporary suspension of the most commonly used neonicotinoid-based products on flowering plants, citing the danger posed to bees — an effort that resulted in a permanent ban in 2018.

In the U.S., however, industry dug in, seeking not only to discredit the research but to cast pesticide companies as a solution to the problem. Lobbying documents and emails, many of which were obtained through open records requests, show a sophisticated effort over the last decade by the pesticide industry to obstruct any effort to restrict the use of neonicotinoids. Bayer and Syngenta, the largest manufacturers of neonics, and Monsanto, one of the leading producers of seeds pretreated with neonics, cultivated ties with prominent academics, including vanEngelsdorp, and other scientists who had once called for a greater focus on the threat posed by pesticides.

The companies also sought influence with beekeepers and regulators, and went to great lengths to shape public opinion. Pesticide firms launched new coalitions and seeded foundations with cash to focus on nonpesticide factors in pollinator decline.

“Position the industry as an active promoter of bee health, and advance best management practices which emphasize bee safety,” noted an internal planning memo from CropLife America, the lobby group for the largest pesticide companies in America, including Bayer and Syngenta. The ultimate goal of the bee health project, the document noted, was to ensure that member companies maintained market access for neonic products and other systemic pesticides.

The planning memo, helmed in part by Syngenta regulatory official John Abbott, charts a variety of strategies for advancing the pesticide industry’s interests, such as, “Challenge EPA on the size and breadth of the pollinator testing program.” CropLife America officials were also tapped to “proactively shape the conversation in the new media realm with respect to pollinators” and “minimize negative association of crop protection products with effects on pollinators.” The document, dated June 2014, calls for “outreach to university researchers who could be independent validators.”

The pesticide companies have used a variety of strategies to shift the public discourse.

“America’s Heartland,” a PBS series shown on affiliates throughout the country and underwritten by CropLife America, portrayed the pollinator declines as a mystery. One segment from early 2013 on the crisis made no mention of pesticides, with the host simply declaring that “experts aren’t sure why” bees and butterflies were disappearing.


Do You Want to Eat Some Pesticide? – Video 13 min

James Corbett Report – Nov 10, 2019 – Video – 13 min

SHOW NOTES: The propaganda shills of the corporate GMO frankenfood pushers are finally putting their mouth where their mouths are. How? By eating pesticide, of course! Get the skinny on this PR stunt and what it tells us about the nature of biotech propaganda on this week’s edition of #PropagandaWatch.


Research Links Pesticide Known Harmful to Bees With Collapse of Fisheries

Truthout – Nov 2, 2019 – Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams

Researchers linked use of the chemicals on fields near a Japanese lake with major disruption to aquatic life.
Monty Rakusen via Getty Image

A new study out this week provides more evidence of harm caused by a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, with researchers linking use of the chemicals on a Japanese lake with impacts to an entire food web that resulted in the collapse of two fisheries

“No surprise,” tweeted former UK Green Party leader leader Natalie Bennett, “soaking our planet in pesticides has broad systemic effects on biodiversity and bioabundance.

For the study, published in the November 1 issue of the journal Science, the researchers looked at Lake Shinji and analyzed over two decades of data. They found cascading impacts that appeared to stem from the first use of neonicotinoids on nearby rice paddies.

“Since the application of neonicotinoids to agricultural fields began in the 1990s, zooplankton biomass has plummeted in a Japanese lake surrounded by these fields,” the researchers wrote. “This decline has led to shifts in food web structure and a collapse of two commercially harvested freshwater fish species.”

“Using data on zooplankton, water quality, and annual fishery yields of eel and smelt,” the paper says, “we show that neonicotinoid application to watersheds since 1993 coincided with an 83% decrease in average zooplankton biomass in spring, causing the smelt harvest to collapse from 240 to 22 tons in Lake Shinji, Shimane Prefecture, Japan.”

As for the strength of the link between the pesticides and the collapse, Phys.orgadded:

The researchers note that they also studied other factors that might have led to fishery collapse, such as nutrient depletion or changes in oxygen or salt concentrations. They report that they were not able to find any evidence showing that there might have been something other than pesticides killing the food fish ate leaving them to starve. They conclude that the evidence strongly suggests it was the introduction of neonicotinoid pesticides into the lake environment that led to the die-offs.

The Guardian, in its reporting on the study, noted that the researchers pointed to the haunting warning from Rachelel Carson’s seminal work, Silent Spring:

In their report, the Japanese researchers said: “She wrote: ‘These sprays, dusts and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests and homes—nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad,’ to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams.’ The ecological and economic impact of neonicotinoids on the inland waters of Japan confirms Carson’s prophecy.”

Similar impacts, the researchers added, are likely felt in other locations.

“Just awful, what gruesome harm we are inflicting on the environment,” Matt Shardlow, CEO of the invertebrate conservation group Buglife, wrote on Twitter in response to the new study.

According to Nathan Donley, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity and who was not involved in the study, the findings should spur action by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“This study highlights cascading harms to aquatic life from neonicotinoids that our EPA has known about but shrugged off,” said Donley. “The evidence is now overwhelming that these pesticides are turning our rivers, lakes, and streams into inhospitable environments for fish, frogs, and other aquatic life.”

“This landmark new research should make it impossible for even the Trump administration to ignore the immense damage caused by these dangerous chemicals,” Donley added.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics as they’re often called, have also been linked to harm to bees, other insects, birds, and other animals.


‘A Total Disgrace’: Outrage as Trump EPA Says It Won’t Ban Pesticide Linked to Brain Damage in Children

Common Dreams – Jul 19, 2019 – Jake Johnson

“The EPA is endangering the lives of children to protect pesticide industry profits.”

Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler speaking in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In a move environmentalists denounced as yet another case of the Trump administration putting industry profits over public health, the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Thursday that it will not ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to brain damage in children.

“By allowing chlorpyrifos to stay in our fruits and vegetables, Trump’s EPA is breaking the law and neglecting the overwhelming scientific evidence that this pesticide harms children’s brains,” Patti Goldman, attorney with Earthjustice said in a statement. “It is a tragedy that this administration sides with corporations instead of children’s health.”

EPA chief Andrew Wheeler’s decision to reject a petition by environmental groups calling for a ban on the neurotoxic chemical ignores the assessments of his agency’s own scientists, saidTiffany Finck-Haynes, pesticides and pollinators program manager for Friends of the Earth.

“The EPA’s refusal to ban chlorpyrifos ignores decades of science showing that this pesticide has irrevocable effects on human health and the environment,” said Finck-Haynes. “The EPA is endangering the lives of children to protect pesticide industry profits.”

Chlorpyrifos has been banned for household use since 2000, but the pesticide is still used by farmers on “more than 50 fruit, nut, cereal, and vegetable crops,” according tothe New York Times.

“In 2016,” the Times reported, “more than 640,000 acres were treated with chlorpyrifos in California alone.”

The Obama administration in 2015 proposed banning use of the pesticide on food crops, but former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt authorized its continued use in 2017.

“This is a total disgrace,” Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) tweeted in response to the EPA’s decision on Thursday.

Finck-Haynes of Friends of the Earth said that as the federal government continues to work on behalf of chemical interests, states must take immediate action to protect the public and the environment.

“While the federal government refuses to act, we urge states to step in, ban chlorpyrifos, and demonstrate that they will safeguard public health and the environment,” said Finck-Haynes. “We call on [New York] Governor [Andrew] Cuomo to sign the chlorpyrifos ban bill sitting on his desk and protect New Yorkers from this toxic pesticide.”

In a statement on Thursday, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) highlighted the Trump administration’s ties to Dow Chemical, the largest producer of chlorpyrifos in the United States.

“The relationship between President Trump and Dow Chemical… has been called into question,” the group said. “Among other things, the chemical manufacturing giant reportedly donated $1 million for Trump’s inauguration, and its CEO previously played a chief advisory role to the president, heading up his now defunct American Manufacturing Council.”

Erik Olson, senior director of health and food at NRDC, said the effort to achieve a ban on chlorpyrifos will continue.

“Until EPA gets this stuff out of our fields and off our food,” said Olson, “this fight is not over.”


Communities That Ban Pesticides Face an Uphill Battle

Truthout – Jun 18, 2019 – Meg WilcoxEnvironmental Health News

As places across the U.S restrict or ban pesticides, many are realizing passing a law is just the beginning.

Wellfleet, Massachusetts—On a recent moonlit evening, with spring peepers in chorus, a dozen Wellfleet residents gathered inside their town’s grey-shingled library for a public information session on the controversial herbicide, glyphosate.

A bucolic, seaside town with less than 3,000 year-round residents, Wellfleet is famed for its picturesque harbor and sweet, briny oysters.

Its residents, like the rest of Cape Cod, rely on a sole source of drinking water, a shallow underground aquifer, and protecting that aquifer from pollutants such as pesticides and septic wastes from household wastewater is a huge concern.

Semi-rural, with 1,000 ponds, extensive wetlands and pristine beaches, Cape Cod is like a giant sandbar. Anything spilled on its sandy soils can seep quickly into the groundwater and pollute its well water and interconnected system of surface waters.

And so, as organic landscaper and founder of the advocacy organization Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer (POCCA), Laura Kelley spoke about the dangers of glyphosate, she told Wellfleet residents, “[state pesticide] regulations don’t match our ecology.”

She was referring to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources’ (MDAR) allowed use of glyphosate to control weeds on rights of way under power lines on Cape Cod. Kelley, and other residents, are concerned that the weedkiller isn’t as safe as regulators say it is, withemerging science suggesting harmful impacts from cancer to birth defects to disruption of hormones and other biological functions that can linger for generations.

Studies showing glyphosate can persist in groundwater worry them, as do recent high-profile jury awards for people claiming their cancer was caused by the herbicide.

Herbicide use by the region’s electricity provider, Eversource, is therefore wildly unpopular on the Cape. All 15 towns are locked in battle with both Eversource and MDAR, the authorizing agency, over the issue.

Cape Cod isn’t alone in facing an uphill battle at carrying out local pesticide policies. While more than 140 communities across the U.S. have now passed a pesticide ordinance or law, and the movement has been scoring big wins — from L.A. County’s glyphosate moratorium, toPortland, Maine’s synthetic pesticide ban, to Montgomery County, Maryland’s appellate court victory upholding its Healthy Lawns Act tonew legislation that would ban glyphosate from New York City parks — moving from victory to implementation of laws or ordinances can be a mixed bag.

Some localities find that passing a law is but a battlefield victory in a prolonged war. State-level preemption laws, resistance from implementing agencies, and lax EPA rules can lead to policies that simply sit on a shelf or are challenged in court.


Keely Brosnan “We Need to Move Away from Pesticide Heavy Agriculture” – Exclusive Interview

Sustainable Food – June 18, 2019

Poisoning Paradise: Journey to the seemingly idyllic world of Native Hawaiians, where communities are surrounded by experimental test sites and pesticides sprayed upwind of their neighborhoods. Poisoning Paradise details the ongoing struggle to advance bold new legislation governing the fate of their island home.

Firstly, Sustainable Pulse and our readers would like to thank you for taking on the task of recording the events in what is known as pesticide ‘ground zero’ – Hawai‘i.

Can you tell us what inspired you to make Poisoning Paradise and why the ongoing efforts to control the use of pesticides in Hawai‘i are so important to you?

I live part time in Hawai‘i and was raised there as a child, so in essence, this film is my love letter to Hawai‘i – a place I love, with people I love. My neighbor and producing partner, Teresa Tico, wanted to make a film about Bill 2491 called “Pass The Bill.” I agreed to fund the project and it then grew exponentially into the film Poisoning Paradise, which has a much broader reach and message than the original concept. The documentary is a time capsule of a grassroots movement that sought to ask for disclosure of what was being sprayed, when, and where: to initiate buffer zones around schools, homes, and environmentally sensitive shorelines; and to ask for an environmental impact study, which would provide scientific data as to how these chemicals affect our land, our water, our air, our food, our health, our oceans, our wildlife, and other natural resources in the Hawaiian islands.

Are there any lessons from Hawai‘i that people can learn globally, regarding how to stand up to the large pesticide corporations and thus to protect their rights?

The day of plausible deniability is over—lawmakers can’t say that they didn’t know that these chemicals were dangerous—they can’t say that they didn’t know what chemicals are being used. Support lawmakers to help them make necessary changes.  The business model of large chemical companies is to maintain a food and agricultural system that is reliant on their toxic pesticides.

Everyone should be pushing for counties to be able to regulate from within when it comes to pesticides.  It’s clear that federal regulatory agencies are not doing enough to protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides. Hawai‘i, California, and New York have passed legislation banning Chlorpyrifos because of the damage it causes children’s brains. Almost 10 million visited Hawai‘i last year. Over 1.3 million people went to Kaua‘i. The visitor industry has a responsibility to inform visitors who are going to be in the areas where these chemicals are used.

Poisoning Paradise is a landmark documentary and has reach far beyond Hawai‘i – what do you hope is the result of your work both locally in Hawai‘i and Globally?

We hope to reach a broad audience with our film. The recent rulings against Monsanto make this discussion relevant and real. We want to reach anyone that is interested in the food movement, sustainable agriculture, and anyone who is interested in protecting their land, their air, and their water. We need to move away from Pesticide Heavy Agriculture, and put resources into recreating Regenerative Diversified Agriculture systems. We must remove toxic pesticides and fertilizers from the equation, protecting our communities, our environment and the farm workers themselves; drastically reduce or eliminate agriculture’s reliance on fossil fuels (including petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers), build soil that sequesters carbon, slowing down climate change, and build soil that captures and holds water, eliminating destructive sediment runoff while also making farms more drought tolerant.

We must educate ourselves and take action, and we must be relentless in our pursuit of protecting the environment, our health, and the health of our children.

How has Poisoning Paradise been received by international audiences so far?

Poisoning Paradise has been warmly received at film festivals abroad, including the Bologna Film Festival in Italy, the Festival Internacional De Cine Medioambiental de Canarias and the Valladolid International Film Festival in Spain, the Be Epic! London International Film Festival, the Manchester Film Festival in the United Kingdom, the Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara in Mexico, the Galway Film Fleadh in Ireland, and the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. We’re pleased to have received over a dozen awards for our film, both domestically and abroad, including many for Best Documentary.

How can our readers around the world watch Poisoning Paradise – when will it be fully released?

Poisoning Paradise is now available in the United States on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, and more. We are currently working with Cinema Libre to bring it to the international market.

Are you thinking of making any follow-up documentaries on the same subject, as this issue seems to be getting more and more international attention with the rise in interest about the risks of glyphosate herbicides?

There is lots of interest in and potential for a follow-up documentary film.