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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: pesticides

What Will Happen If We Lose The Bees To Pesticides? Let's Not Find Out

If we were to lose the bees, as now seems increasingly likely, humanity would collapse after four years. They pollinate about a third of our food. But if the insects were to disappear altogether, then even more than our food supply and quality of life would be affected. Entire ecosystems and inevitably civilization itself would collapse. Even now an enormous proportion of world insect species are endangered. Without them half of all birds would disappear and our world would become unrecognizable, a world we would not want to inhabit.

We have visited the Monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan, Mexico, where the butterflies arrive after a 3000-mile journey from Canada through the United States in the longest insect migration on earth. To see the butterflies engaged in their aerial acrobatic flights is one of the world’s great spectacles. Everyone in North America should be concerned that the population of this unique iconic species has dropped by 80 percent in the last generation due to habitat destruction – and to genetically engineered crops which have been modified to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide which destroys the Monarch species’ main food supply.

Spellbound by the numbers and huddled masses of the Monarchs we beheld in the oyamel forests over 16 years ago, we left the refuge very slowly. Local rangers made sure no-one drove more than five miles an hour so that not a single monarch would be hurt or hit by our vehicle. Yet all the while, in the United States our agricultural policies are committing mass murder of one of nature’s most exquisite species .

But it is not just the Monarch Butterfly that is threatened. Many bee species and nearly half of all insects have seen their numbers drop worldwide. As climate change exacerbates the destruction of their habitat, insects and fauna of all kinds face a very uncertain future. The United States still permits the use of 72 pesticides that are outright banned or will soon be in Europe, Brazil, and even China. More than 300 million pounds of pesticides banned in other countries are used in this country annually, in a military-type assault on agricultural lands. The banning of these pesticides will be largely up to the very industries that use them, but the people need to make their voices known. Until these chemicals are outlawed, we are committing ecocide on our own lands.

These chemical can also kill human beings, of course. The glyphosate-based weedkiller in Roundup has finally been brought to justice in the first cancer trial exposing that pesticide’s effect. After using the Monsanto insecticide, a farmer named DeWayne Johnson got non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a deadly form of cancer. Now Monsanto will have to pay $289 million in damages to Johnson. The only hitch is that he will probably not survive much longer.

Monsanto has allegedly concealed the facts about Roundup ever since its introduction on the market in 1974. Since then over 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate have been distributed over the American food supply – and over the past 20 years, the average amount of glyphosate assimilated into humans has increased by 1000 percent. The Johnson lawsuit only begins to reflect the damage done to the environment and people, with 8000 additional plaintiffs awaiting trial.

Anyone who believes they can escape the ill effects of pesticides should realize that breakfast cereals also contain glyphosate – and the average American consumes 10 pounds of cereal every year. The Lucky Charms leprechaun and that jolly Quaker fellow on the oatmeal box should be replaced with a death’s head. Too little and too late, the Environmental Protection Agency is reconsidering the impact of glyphosate and Roundup on human health and the environment, including the Monarch butterfly habitats. But the World Health Organization has determined already that glyphosphate is a deadly carcinogen.

Farmers have been using glyphosphate on crops at the time of harvest, incuding peas, carrots, soy products, sweet potatoes, corn, almonds, quinoa, and others. The impact on the body’s biochemistry, especially as it pertains to inflammation and the gut is substantial. We are all being affected.

Critically endangered species are being harmed by pesticides and herbicides daily, as is our vulnerable topsoil. Retailers such as Home Depot need to be persuaded to stop supplying Roundup before our food system crashes. In this time of extreme climate change, the last thing we need is to lose the insects, those very beings we have taken granted for millennia.

In Europe, regulators have taken a far tougher position on pesticides. France has been careful to ban five neonicotinoid chemicals from agricultural use because they are known to wreak havoc on pollinating bees. Europe’s top court ruled that the chemicals posed a “serious risk to human or animal health or to the environment.”

The United Nations has issued an alert that half of pollinators, bees and butterflies included, are at immediate risk of disappearing forever. Worsening floods, drought, and serious climate disruption are occurring already. If we don’t reverse course, we will have poisoned the very foundation of this country, its soil. Without the soil there can be no civilization. In the corn belt, America has already lost half of its topsoil. By 2050, as much as 75 percent of the world will be suffering from drought.

Global famine is just around the corner if we don’t save the insects by adopting sustainable farming methods. The industrial use of pesticides is eliminating the insects we depend on and will eventually undermine the viability of our species. The insects, those tiny creatures that uphold the world, have warned us.

Study Says Early DDT Exposure May Set Up Females For Obesity, Diabetes

By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times

As they reached adulthood, female mice who were exposed in utero and just after birth to the pesticide DDT showed metabolic changes that put them at greater risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes, a new study says.

The metabolic abnormalities seen in the exposed female mice were dramatically exacerbated when they were fed a high-fat diet for 12 weeks in adulthood. Compared with unexposed mice who also ate a high-fat diet, females exposed to DDT around the time of their birth were more likely to develop high cholesterol, insulin insensitivity, glucose intolerance, and metabolic problems that could lead to liver disease.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, helps explain a consistent finding from epidemiological studies: In large populations, exposure to DDT and other persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, is linked to increased rates of Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and worrisome cholesterol.

Such studies could not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between pesticide exposure and these ills. But the latest study takes a major step in that direction. By directly comparing lab mice deliberately exposed to DDT during gestation and infancy with members of the same breed who were not, researchers set two identical populations on very different tracks, and consistently gathered a wide range of health-related measures from birth to death.

Experimentation on mice has its limits in illuminating physiological processes in humans. But the mammals’ compressed lifespan and the broad similarity between the inner workings of mice and human have made the small creatures a useful stand-in for us.

The study confirms that DDT exposure sets in motion circumstances that increase an individual’s likelihood over the course of her lifespan of accumulating excess fat, and of metabolizing fats and carbohydrates in ways that increase the risk of developing metabolic syndrome — a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.

But the study also underscores that, when it comes to DDT exposure, cause and effect may be separated by a lengthy delay. In lab mice, repeated exposures to DDT “within the range of contemporary human exposures” came during the second of gestation and within the first five days of life.

In young adulthood — around two months — researchers noted that DDT-exposed females had a slightly lower core temperature than their non-exposed sisters, and seemed to expend fewer calories in day-to-day activities. DDT-exposed female mice were slightly heavier and carried a bit more fat as young adults — two to five months after birth.

But it wasn’t until they were 6 months old that DDT-exposed females showed clear signs of impaired glucose tolerance, fasting glucose, insulin, and lipid levels. And when the two groups of mice were put on a high-fat diet at age 6 months, the trajectories of their weight and their metabolic health diverged even more dramatically.

That delayed response could help place DDT in the pantheon of influences that have contributed to a steady uptick in obesity and Type 2 diabetes among Americans during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s — and in the later appearance of the same trend throughout the developing world.

From the late 1940s until it was banned in 1972, DDT was widely used in the United States and throughout Europe to control mosquitoes and other insects carrying malaria, polio, and typhus. After evidence of its toxic effects on wildlife prompted the United States to outlaw its use, DDT continued to be a mainstay of agricultural pest control in many poorer countries for years, and is still used for malaria control in some of the world’s poorest countries.

But the study also underscores that DDT exposure may not by itself have set in motion the world’s obesity crisis. In order for its effects on basic metabolic function — in females at least — to turn into a public health crisis, a new factor unique to modern human society may also have needed to be in place: the flowering of a vast commercial empire built on offering copious amounts of highly-palatable food to creatures with an evolved drive to consume and store as much energy as could be had.

Another key question is how, when DDT exposure appears primarily to affect females’ physiological function, it could possibly explain an obesity crisis that has affected both genders roughly equally. The authors of the latest research found subtle changes in the expression of genes that influence metabolic processes. Only further study will determine whether such changes may be passed on to future generations — and across genders.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Environmental Group Says Pesticides Hurt Bees And Don’t Help Farmers

By Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune

The pesticides that are synonymous with the demise of honeybees don’t do much for the farmers that use them, according to a new analysis by a national environmental group.

The Center for Food Safety said Monday that a growing body of independent scientific evidence shows that the pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, rarely improve crop yields. They are one of the most widely used agricultural chemicals in the world and a factor in the rising concern over the fate of the honeybee.

Today almost every corn and soybean seed that is planted each year on 170 million acres across the Midwest is coated with an insect neurotoxin that is absorbed by the growing plant. They are commonly used in backyard products, and are intrinsic to most nursery plants, which now come “pre-poisoned” as a defense against insects.

“In most cases they are totally unnecessary and are causing tremendous harm,” said Peter Jenkins, an attorney with the Center for Food Safety who represents beekeepers in a legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency over how the pesticides are regulated.

Bayer CropScience, the primary manufacturer of neonicotinoids, disputed the conclusion and said that its proprietary research shows that the pesticides are a valuable tool, and increasingly important as the world’s growing population will require even more food production per acre. Nor is there evidence that the pesticides are the primary cause of bee declines or colony collapse disorder, said David Fischer, Director of Environmental Toxicology and Risk Assessment at Bayer CropScience.

“There is not any scientific evidence to support any honeybee colonies dying from exposure,” he said.

Still, the pesticides’ usefulness could be an important question as the Environmental Protection Agency conducts its ongoing safety review of the chemicals, which is expected to be completed in by 2018. The agency has asked manufacturers to provide efficacy data for neonicotinoids, and new studies on their environmental impact on honeybees and wild pollinators.

The concerns about pollinators are also on the radar for agricultural interests. Adam Czech, a public relations manger for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, said that farmers and agricultural groups in Minnesota are devising new practices to protect pollinators, and if new research creates doubt about the benefits of pesticides “then farmers are open to new ways of doing things differently.”

Neonicotinoids were approved in 1994 as the first new class of pesticides in 50 years because they promised to be far safer for humans and mammals than previous ones. Made of a synthetic nicotine, the chemical worked as neurotoxin on the insects that are the bane of farmers everywhere.

Bayer conducted studies on bees, and found that in normal conditions they were not harmful. But neonicotinoids became the focus after 2006, when commercial bee colonies suddenly crashed, a decline that has continued as beekeepers on average lose a third of their colonies each year.

As the use of the pesticides has spread, so have questions about the long-term exposure on honeybees, bumblebees, monarchs, and other pollinators. And increasing number of studies have confirmed some of the beekeepers fears — that the toxins don’t kill them outright, but can affect the bees’ complex ability to navigate across miles of open land to find flowers and then find their way home. A federal review of threats to bees in 2012 found that such sublethal affects were a concern, but more research was needed to prove a connection.

Though Bayer officials say such events are rarely reported, the chemicals have also been found to be the cause of sudden honeybee die-offs in the spring when the toxins are spewed into the air along with dust from seed planting machines. Christian Krupke, an agricultural entomologist at Purdue University said his research showed that 61 percent of commercial honeybees colonies located in Indiana would be in the path of dust plume at corn planting time.

“All of the Midwest is in the same boat,” said Krupke, who was also an adviser on the Center for Food Safety’s report.

In its review, The Center for Food Safety included 19 peer-reviewed studies that looked at whether the pesticides help farmers increase the number of bushels they can grow per acre. Of those, eight found no improvement and 11 said results were inconsistent.

Jonathon Lundgren, an agricultural scientist at the U.S. Agricultural research station in Brookings South Dakota, described one of his studies, which he said is typical of all the independent, peer reviewed research. He planted two different kinds of soybean seeds — one with and one without a coating of pesticides — for two years in a row. He found the exact same yield in each plot.

But he also kept track of insects. The soybean aphids, which were the target of the insecticide, were not affected at all, largely because the chemical had dissipated by the time they showed up in the field in mid-July, he said. But the ladybugs, lacewings and spiders that are that are the aphid’s natural enemies were affected, he said.

“Not only was it not killing soybean aphids, but it also was harming the natural enemies that would have resisted aphids when they did arrive,” he said.

Iain Kelly, head North American Bee Health for Bayer, said the company’s own research showed different results, though it hasn’t been published or peer reviewed by outside experts. On average, he said corn yields increase by six bushels per acre and sometimes higher. The chemicals also protect seeds and seedlings from pests that appear early in the year, giving farmers a longer growing season, he said.

Photo: jetsandzeppelins via Flickr