The Grumpy Old Man

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The Continued Use of Neonicotinoids Insecticides

The dangers of the over use of insecticides and in particular neonicotinoides

I have recently come across a petition to permanently ban the use of the insecticide family called neonicotinoides (abbreviated as neonics). It appears that these neonics are widely used, reputedly being registered in over 120 countries and having a business turnover of €1.5 billion for the manufacturers. So far as I can ascertain, various forms of neonics are produced predominantly by five or six manufacturers. It would appear these neonics represent 24% of the global insecticide market and are used in 80% of all seed treatments! In sunlight they have a half-life of around 34 days, but without sunlight it can be as much as 3.8 years (yes years). This latter period should clearly give concern about build-ups in such places as underground aquifers, which provide large quantities of drinking water particularly in rural areas through abstraction from boreholes and springs in many parts of the world.

This latter fact, in an era where common sense should prevail, Grumpy believes that this should have set at least some alarm bells ringing. We read that in 2008 one of the neonic family was linked to the death of millions of honeybees in Germany.

Through all this, both the manufacturers and large swathes of the agricultural industry insisted that the product was safe. Personally when I look back at what has taken place since the 1940s I regard such assertions from vested interest producers with horror. I am reminded of substances like DDT which was claimed to be the ultimate insecticide, and was widely used (I must admit by even Grumpy himself who remembers using DDT based fly killers in the 1950s). Bluntly, it is now considered lethal, having been associated with other carcinogenic substances. It is now largely banned around the world only being used in highly specific disease vector control. Despite concerns for years, this "total" ban was only applied in the early 1990s. As an aside, it is worthy of note that the DDT half life is some 30 odd years! And the manufacturers of that insisted it was safe, while they made their profit.

I also remember as a grumpy young man the assertions that were going around regarding tobacco. The medical community had for years been raising warning flags while the tobacco companies insisted that these worries were all hooo harrr. Brand names of cigarettes were designed to induce a sense of sexiness (B***k R*****n), masculinity (M******o) or sophistication (the gold packet on B****n & H****s). Some names suggested smoothness (S**k C*t). I even remember one brand having a slogan that "C***** A will not affect your throat". But it did, causing many a throat cancer and, Gordon Bennett, it also rotted your lungs out while it was at it. Perhaps that slogan was the nearest the tobacco industry ever came, at that time, to admitting that there just may be adverse health effects associated with their products, while they made their huge profits.

Grumpy would be the first to admit that, yes, he used to smoke even though tobacco brought the early demise of his dear Dad. On a lighter note, I do recall in my younger days a non-smoking lady friend commenting that kissing a smoker was like snogging a dirty old ashtray! So who is benefiting from this? The tobacco companies of course were making an absolute fortune, and still are, so much so, that on the stock market they were considered to be "blue chip" companies. And we mustn't forget that governments in most developing countries tax tobacco heavily and it therefore represents quite a significant tax cash cow for them. I'm not completely sure, but from my days in retail, the tax proportion of the cost of a packet of fags was around 70 to 80%! And through all of this, certainly back in the 1950s, the tobacco companies swore black was white and that tobacco was not harmful to our health or their wealth.

But let's come back to this incident in 2008 where neonics were associated with the death of millions of honeybees in Germany. You would be right to ask the question "is that the only incident of this nature?" The answer of course is no, it is not.

Evidence from around the world points to falling and increasingly unpredictable yields of insect pollinated crops, particularly in the areas with the most intensive farming. Where crops are grown in vast fields, there are not enough insects pollinators to go round. If on top of this, insecticides are frequently sprayed or applied through other means, vital pollinators are wiped out. After all, biologically, bees are classified as insects.

The most dramatic example of this effect is reported from the apple and pear orchards of south-west China, where wild bees have been eradicated by the excessive use of pesticides and destruction of natural habitat. Fresh fruit in this part of China is a high-value crop and its failure represents an economic disaster for the area. To ward this off, and because of a very noticeable drop in insect pollinators (actually admittedly due to the extensive use of insecticides) farmers have been forced to carry pots of pollen and paintbrushes around with which to individually pollinate every single flower, having to use children to climb to the highest blossom.

So how essential is pollination? Well, the problem and solution devised in China demonstrates just how crucial it is. There are also reported examples of such a shortage of natural pollinators as close to home as Herefordshire (famed for Bulmer's cider) and the Vale of Evesham (also a fruit production area). As aficionados of the BBC programme "Country File" will know, fruit farmers in these areas, are now hiring hives of bees during the blossom season to ensure proper pollination so they have a good crop. This must add to their business overheads, a cost which ultimately will be passed on to you, the "end user". The programme also proved that there must be a huge dearth of natural pollinators as the owners of these rented hives are now being forced to truck in pantechnicon loads of honey bees, each carrying probably billions at a time, from Southern Europe in order to meet the demand. Gordon Bennett what a carry on, when man himself, through his total and utter stupidity, has decimated the natural, resident domestic honeybee population, all in the name of profit for a few huge chemical conglomerates!

But that's just fruit you say. If we read the literature we find that 75% of man's foodstuffs depend one way or the other on pollinators, primarily bees but other insects and some wind blown as well. If you query the 75% do remember that it includes pollination of grain that will ultimately be utilised as animal feed stock thus producing your meat, eggs, milk, cheese............... and so on. Bees and other insects have provided free pollination for our crops for millennia. They can continue to do so if we learn to recognise their importance and return the favour by providing them with that which they need to survive and not go around making the world a hazardous environment for them. So why in the world do we go around spraying insecticides when there is already evidence to suggest that it could be harmful? The slightest whiff of harm to these crucial insects should ring the alarm bells and we should be most loud, vociferous and persistent when we shout "Oi, no! no! no!".

We must recognise that the health and well-being of our children depend on us preserving a healthier environment and remember that to do so requires each and every one of us (including farmers and chemical producers) to show some respect for the myriads of not only insects but wild animals and plants with which we share our fragile world. We cannot continue to go around selectively killing this, that and the other, as we may never know when that which we are targeting, is crucial to the whole tree of life for us all.

Again, a study, less than a year old actually provides more evidence of a direct link between neonics and bee colony loss. The study showed that the use of neonics, over an 11 year period, correlated with high bee mortality. And this research was carried out by a former government agency (recently outsourced to the private sector). Ironically, the study also found that seed pesticide treatments did reduce the application of other insecticides but the long-term benefits of treating the oilseed rape seed were actually found to be negligible!

The honeybee is the most important commercial pollinator, globally responsible for pollinating at least 90% (Grumpy admits this figure does vary according to your source but I have yet to see a figure of less than 75%) of commercial crops. They are the most frequent flower visitor to oilseed rape. The study actually says “As long as acute toxins remain the basis of agricultural pest control practices, society will be forced to weigh the benefits of pesticides against their collateral damage. Nowhere is this tension more evident than in the system with the world’s most widely used insecticide, the world’s most widely used managed pollinator and Europe’s most widely grown mass flowering crop.”

Paul de Zylva, senior nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth said the study added to the growing evidence showing the harm neonics do to pollinators. “The pesticide industry can’t continue to maintain that there is no effect of their products on honey bees, wild bumblebees and solitary bees,” he said.

We may argue that much of the evidence being voiced may be anecdotal (which in itself may cause one to query it) but Grumpy would argue that there is so much of this anecdotal evidence building up that we should instead apply Baye's theorem in our analysis of the data. (Within this context I would quote Baye's theorem in that there is so much anecdotal evidence around that it is actually unreasonable to continue to deny the value or credibility of the argument).

I read with great delight and satisfaction that the lifting of the temporary ban on the use of neonics in the UK was refused at ministerial level on 13 May. What horrifies me if I delve further, is that I find the political lobbyists are still pressurising governments to permanently lift the ban. Thank goodness for once the government has accepted that these lobbyists have a huge vested interest, being paid huge sums by the people who are making the huge profits. And within that context I dare say they are being (like tobacco manufacturers were) rather more than 'economical' with the truth.

It is therefore incumbent upon us all to encourage by whatever means possible the British and other worldwide governments and regulatory authorities to make permanent the ban on the use of these very dangerous chemicals. What I find most odd is that they would appear to be banned in the United States and a number of other European countries. So why in the world are we all flim, flam fannying around when what we need to do is to get our b***s in gear and get rid of these things worldwide?

At the end of the day, I would argue that if there is significant indication of the bee population having problems (like Colony Collapse Disorder which seems to appear and disappear on a fairly regular basis) then surely common sense should prevail and the huge sums of money being spent developing these chemicals that cause even more stress to the bee population should be spent on finding the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder and doing something about that. I've no doubt at all, the reason your Bayer, BSF, Mitsui, Syngenta and Sumitomos do not do this is because they cannot see any profit in it. Instead, they spend megabucks developing chemicals that kill off insects and generally cause mayhem.

If we go on like this, we will most certainly speed up the end of the species Homo Sapiens who have already grossly overpopulated our beloved, delicate planet. Do we really want to leave a totally sterile environment to our grandchildren?

So what can we, the little man do? Since writing the above it has been brought to my notice that Bayer, BSF and Syngenta have launched a legal challenge to the European Union's ban on the use of neonics. A petition in support of the EU is doing the rounds and I suggest you sign it and get your friends to also sign. The petition can be found on this web address so click on the link; Petition

Perhaps, after all, the EU does have something to offer!