A beekeeping friend whose family grows corn in the Midwest sent me a piece from NPR about neonicotinoids — pesticides used to coat the seeds of many agricultural crops, particularly corn. When the seed sprouts, the chemicals spread through the plant and insects that try to munch it get a deadly dose.
These chemicals are used in the seed crops grown on our island and elsewhere in Hawaii.
Now there's growing evidence that these pesticides — developed by Shell and Bayer — are killing bees, prompting beekeepers and conservation groups to file suit against the EPA to suspend registrations of insecticides identified as highly toxic to honey bees.
The same debate is raging in Europe, where 13 EU nations are calling for a ban on neonics. But Britain is putting up fierce resistance. Though 30 scientific papers have been published in the past three years linking the chemicals to bee harm, the British environmental minister and Bayer are calling for “real-world, not theoretical” studies that pesticide poisoning is to blame for bee declines around the world.
As NPR reports, Purdue University entomologist Christian Krupe tested the dust produced by the machines that are used to plant corn and “found amazing levels of neonic pesticides: 700,000 times more than what it takes to kill a honeybee. That toxic dust lands on nearby flowers, such as dandelions. If bees feed on pollen from those flowers, that dust easily can kill them.”
Other recent (2012) studies show that pesticide dust released at planting time may persist in nearby fields for several years and be taken up into non-target plants, which are then foraged by bees and other insects.
Plants grown from treated seeds produce pollen that contains low levels of neonics. Bees get cumulative exposure when they collect this pollen, which is used to feed their young.
As I mentioned, these pesticides are widely used in Hawaii seed crops. So what is the impact on our wildlife, our bees, the people who live within blowing dust distance of these crops? We don't know, and no one is looking.
But a study by the very mainstream American Cancer Society suggests it's time we started (emphasis added):
A growing number of well-designed epidemiological and molecular studies provide substantial evidence that the pesticides used in agricultural, commercial, and home and garden applications are associated with excess cancer risk. This risk is associated both with those applying the pesticide and, under some conditions, those who are simply bystanders to the application. In this article, the epidemiological, molecular biology, and toxicological evidence emerging from recent literature assessing the link between specific pesticides and several cancers including prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, and breast cancer are integrated. Although the review is not exhaustive in its scope or depth, the literature does strongly suggest that the public health problem is real.
So it is not reassuring to learn, as reported in Andy Parx's blog, that Kauai County officials have employed the lobbying services of James Pacopac, who also works as a lobbyist for Syngenta. That's the same company whose agricultural practices were suspected of sickening kids at Waimea Canyon School numerous times, prompting the county to spend $50,000 on a study that came up with no real conclusions.
Surely the county — and KIUC, which also employs Pacopac — could find a lobbyist who isn't affiliated with the chemical companies to represent us in the Legislature, where GMO crops, pesticide registration and related issues were hotly debated this session. And from the agenda item posted for tomorrow's County Council meeting, it appears Pacopac was also representing the Hawaii State Association of Counties (HSAC) Legislative Packages for 2013.
As the Biblical saying goes, “no man can serve two masters.” And in this case, it's likely the fat pockets of Syngenta inspire greater lobbyist loyalty.
If the county wants to build credibility with its citizens, whose concerns about pesticide exposure from the seed crops are mounting, it needs to start by eliminating the perception that it's already in bed with the chemical companies that grow them.