Neonics: first bees, now monarchs

Researchers at South Dakota State University and the US Department of Agriculture Research Laboratory at Brookings, South Dakota, have published research results which indicate that a neonicotinoid pesticide could be acting as a stressor to monarch butterfly populations. The effects on monarch larvae were observed  at a pesticide concentration of one part per billion on milkweed, the sole food plant for monarch larvae, equivalent to the potential concentration of the neonic pesticide on milkweed plants growing in a field adjacent to a corn field in which neonic pesticides are being applied.

According to the researchers, neonics are now the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the world.

No doubt the manufacturers and users of neonic pesticides will go ballistic in their efforts to decry this research. GallonDaily suggests that they are now very much on the losing side of the battle and that, without a major change to the formulation of neonic pesticides, the products will sooner or later face restrictions and bans. After all, those who harm honey bees and monarch butterflies are unlikely to win friends among the environmentalist, school kid, and concerned consumer segments of the population.

Gallondaily has written about neonics before, and may do so again. The purpose of this article is to suggest that food retailers not seek to jump on the anti-neonic bandwagon, something that we expect will start sooner or later. The research reported briefly above makes it apparent that trying to sell food as free from neonics, or as from farms that are neonic free, may be an unwise strategy. Even organic food is likely to be contaminated with these extremely low levels of neonics if it is grown in proximity to farms that use neonics. People generally do not eat milkweed, though some parts of the plant, flower buds and young seed pods, are edible. There is no evidence to date that neonics at very low levels on food plants cause harm to human health, so claims that a food product is neonic free could cause problems with label claim regulators who may argue that any such claim is inherently misleading.

GallonDaily suspects that there are claims that can be made for human food products that are grown without use of neonics and that are therefore not contributing to the decline of honey bees and monarch butterflies but the wording of such claims will have to be developed carefully and with considerable assistance from experts in product  environmental claims. Regulators are often all too ready to pounce on claims that harm the big players in the agricultural sector.

The article Non-target effects of clothianidin on monarch butterflies can be found at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00114-015-1270-y The abstract is free; there is a fee, or journal subscription required, for the full article.

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