As we discussed in Monday’s post, Neonicotinoids are one of the main issues currently facing pollinating insects today. This post will go into what they are, what they are used for and why they are a problem.
Pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals are used to boost crop yields and replace the lost nutrients in soils which have been degraded by the industrial farming machine. Year after year, modern agriculture props itself up on chemicals to keep the wheels turning.
What is a Neonicotinoid?
Neonicotinoids are insecticides. This means their main function is to protect crops from insects which would cause the plants harm. One problem with this approach to pest control is that the chemical cannot distinguish between an insect (that wants to cause harm to the plant), and a pollinator which are a vital part of the plant’s lifecycle.
Neonicotinoid is the broad name used to describe this family of insecticides, which includes the chemicals acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam (Wikipedia). While they are said to be less harmful to birds and mammals than traditional insecticides, the reduction in insect populations has a knock on effect on bird numbers which suffer as a result of the reduction in food sources.
Where did they come from?
This family of chemicals became widely used in the 1990s as a replacement for insecticides which pests had become immune to. They were favoured for having ‘selective’ qualities like the previous generation. What is meant by this is that studies showed a reduced toxicity to mammals who came into contact with the newer chemicals (neonicotinoids) than the first generation of insecticides.
How are they used?
Neonicotinoids are systemic, meaning they travel through the plant as it grows. This means that the chemical can be sprayed on seeds before they are planted. Spraying the seeds reduces the need for insecticides to be sprayed on the field once the crop is growing. Seeds are pre-treated before being sold to farmers for sowing.
What is being done so far?
In Europe, concerns were raised as to the safety of these chemicals. As a result, a temporary (two year) ban was put in place in 2013 by the European Union. This ban prevented the use of neonicotinoid chemicals being sprayed on the seeds of flowering crops which are attractive to bees.
What about farmers?
So here is the flip side. It’s all very well putting a blanket ban on these chemicals but what about the farmers who use them? In particular, how are they to support themselves with smaller crop yields? There needs to be a transition from chemicals which a messing with pollinators (and think about what they are doing to YOU!) to a more sustainable and healthy alternative. Placing a ban without providing an optimal solution will just cause the chemical companies to synthesise another chemical and the cycle starts again.
What alternatives are there?
In terms of the calories in vs calories out ratio, industrial farming is a massively inefficient way to get food. According to Michael Pollan (See Here) it takes 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce 1 calorie of food in some modern agricultural cases. BUT it is currently the only system available with the infrastructure to feed the billions of mouths that need to be fed.
Pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers are a SHORT TERM solution propping up the industrial farming machine. How long can it keep going before the wheels stop turning?
We need a way to MASS produce food in controlled environments.
What about vertical farming?
No pests, controlled light cycles, incredible yield per square foot, efficient use of water.
What do you think? Ill leave you with this video and will discuss it at a future point!
Godfray, H.C.J., Blacquiere, T., Field, L.M., Hails, R.S., Potts, S.G., Raine, N.E., Vanbergen, A.J. and McLean, A.R. (2015). A restatement of recent advances in the natural science evidence base concerning neonicotinoid insecticides and insect pollinators. Proc. R. Soc. B 282, 20151821
Want to check out some more?
- Read Monday’s post about the big problems with pollinators and what we can do to help. Read the article HERE
- Watch a cool video about honey yields of bees on a farm vs bees in a town. Watch it HERE