Pesticides poisoning these pollinators threaten to radically change the way we eat.
Industry wants us to believe that pesticides help sustain food production – the exchange of chemicals needed to keep out harmful insects and ensure we have enough to eat. But that data often tells a different story – especially in cases neonicotinoid pesticides, also known as neonics.
Although it is the most widely used type of pesticide in the United States, studies have shown that the greatest use of this neurotoxic chemical does little to help yields or farmers’ profits.
If we take a closer look, it’s easy to see why: Most neonics are applied as coatings to seeds for crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat – where they are most often used indiscriminately, not in response to specific pest problems. For many conventional seed varieties, farmers have no choice but to buy seeds that are neonically treated, thanks to the monopoly that the agrochemical giant, which produces seeds and pesticides, has almost enjoyed.
Result? Tens to hundreds of millions of hectares do not need to be sown with poisonous bee seeds. And while this wasteful practice may be good news for chemical producers’ profit margins – more than $ 3 billion per year—They are catastrophic news for the surrounding ecosystem.
That’s because neonics are widespread ecosystem contaminants. When coated with seeds, they are absorbed “systemically” as the plant grows – up through the roots and into the nectar, pollen, and fruit itself – which is then eaten by other wildlife. What doesn’t make it a plant (usually more than 95 percent of the poisonous seed layer) is released into the soil, where it can travel long distances, carried by rain and agricultural runoff into new soil, crops, and water supplies. Once in the soil, neonics live long lives – accumulate in the soil over time and continue to damage or kill insects and other wildlife for years after application.
Not surprisingly, our current agricultural system 48 times more dangerous insect life than two decades ago, with neonics accounting for more than 90 percent of that increase. That is why it is not surprising that neonics have been identified as a the main cause from the massive loss of the US honeybee colony every year – the new, unfortunate state of the art. Neonics are also associated with mass death real bee, the birds, fish, and harm to other important insects and earthworms, which keep our soils healthy and nutrient dense.
This pollution is clearly creating an ecological crisis but also a crisis in the way we eat.
In a recent study from Rutgers UniversityResearchers looked at seven different crops on 131 commercially managed fields across North America to see how many crops were “pollinator restricted” —that is, the higher yields of crops if more pollinators were present.
Unfortunately, five out of every seven plants they analyzed had pollinator restrictions – including favorites like apples, cherries, and blueberries. “Honey bee colonies are weaker than before and wild bees are decreasing, maybe a lot,” said the paper’s senior author, Rachael Winfree. “Fewer bees, in turn, means less food, and more pressure on honey bee populations struggling to replace pollination from native bees.”
As Winfree notes, this dependence on one species is risky, “exposing us to food safety concerns.” To make matters worse, the research suggests that the likely impact of neonics on our food supply will be imminent; it’s happening now.
For now, industry can use temporary solutions – such as breeding and shipping more honeybees to replace lost colonies – but this strategy could ultimately fail if we don’t address the extensive and wasteful source of neonic contamination.
Looking to the future, low yields may mean that some of our favorite foods are becoming much more expensive or not available at all – a consequence of high human and economic costs.
In the United States, crop production that depends on pollination is worth more than $ 50 billion every year. Indeed, one out of every three food bites is dependent on pollinators. Food workers – a generic term for industrial giants that include everyone from agricultural workers to restaurant cooks and waiters to grocery store clerks – can experience increased job disruption, too, if the market for this food is changed.
Just, a group of local New York chefs– Recognizing their dependence on bees and a plentiful and diverse supply of food to keep restaurants open, working workers, and their food healthy and delicious – called on state legislators to curb the state’s wasteful use of neonics.
Faced with rising food prices, more families may also find it difficult to provide food. Already, more than 10.5 percent of all US families–Or more than 35 million Americans – experienced food insecurity at some point in 2019. During the COVID-19 crisis, the numbers swelled. For those who are unsure where their next meal will come from, even the on-going increase in food prices is acute. Potentially significant changes in food costs or availability – especially for our most nutrient dense products – are likely to occur particularly hitting low-income families.
The stakes are high, but the solution is simple: We must control the unnecessary use of neonics that threaten our food supply and pollute our soil and water on a large scale.
On the same side, we must also support regenerative agriculture practice, which eliminates the need for synthetic pesticides such as neonics. A more equitable and sustainable food system that protects workers, consumers and the wild world also protects our food security – that’s what we need and it’s within reach.
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