Much has been written in recent weeks about the unconditional EPA registration of the neonicotinoid clothianidin in spite of insufficient testing. Many classes of wildlife are at risk from this insecticide including fish and aquatic invertebrates, birds and mammals, amphibians and marine mollusks, and of course terrestrial invertebrates. If you’ve got the time and patience you can read the EPA documents which were leaked to a Colorado beekeeper at http://www.panna.org/sites/default/files/Memo_Nov2010_Clothianidin.pdf. Although called a memo, it runs 101 pages.
Nothing in this document is surprising. In fact, it is exactly what I wrote about in my master’s thesis. Clothianidin is just one of many popular pesticides that have received the green light from the EPA in spite of research that shows they cause significant harm to honey bee larvae. While the EPA requires testing on adult honey bees only, the real damage is being done at the larval stages through contaminated pollen. And believe me on this: no larvae means no adults.
Now, here’s what really has me annoyed. Every article, every editorial, and every tweet I’ve read about this memo refers exclusively to honey bees. But what about all the other pollinators? The memo itself mentions pollinators and then puts [honey bees] in brackets, as if honey bees were the only pollinators affected by the chemical. And while beekeepers are madly rearing queens, splitting colonies, and transporting bees all over the country to compensate for their losses, who exactly is taking care of the other pollinators?
The answer is “no one.”
Native bees, in particular, use pollen in much the same way as honey bees. Although not stored in large hives, the pollen is nevertheless collected and used to feed the developing larvae. Worse, native bees are not capable of the huge foraging distances typical of honey bees. They are pretty much forced to eat whatever is close by. If that is all poisoned, then those bees are toast.
It’s not that I have anything against honey bees; I hope that is obvious. But I’m concerned about our native bees—the little guys who took care of the world’s food supply before big rigs and freeways allowed us to haul honey bees all over the countryside.
Tell me this: Why do we think we have a right to kill everything in a field? Because it’s little? Because it’s icky or it might sting? Because we can’t see it or don’t know what it is? What is wrong with us? Many native bee species in North America and around the globe went extinct even before we identified them. We will never know what secrets they took with them or how they could have helped mankind in the future. We just don’t care. So with that as a precedent, we just go and kill more. What the heck?
So, okay. The clothianidin leak is a good thing. It may help honey bees and it may end up helping the wild bees as well. But what a price we’ve already paid—and continue to pay—because we think corporate interests are more important than bugs.