The European Union plans to ban the world’s most widely used insecticides in an effort to protect bees and other valuable pollinator insects. The ban on neonicotinoids, approved by member nations on Friday, is expected to come into force by the end of 2018 and will mean they can only be used in closed greenhouses.
Not only have these insecticides been linked to dramatic declines in bees and other pollinators, they’re also suspected in declines in many other insect species, along with insect-eating birds and bats. Even important creatures like earthworms are being damaged by neonics, a four-year investigation by the task force found.
The EU had previously banned use of neonics on flowering crops that are known to specifically attract bees, noting that an estimated three quarters of important food crops may be pollinated by bees.
Three-quarters of all honey on Earth has pesticides in it! In 2013, the European Union banned the use of three neonics on crops that are visited by bees. But because these pesticides are used to coat the seeds of crops, much of it leaches onto the soil, contaminating nearby wildflowers and other crops. Even in tiny doses, these chemicals can harm bees. “These neonicotinoids are extremely, extremely toxic, according to Edward Mitchell, the leader of the Laboratory of Soil Biology at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, they are 4 to 5,000 times more toxic than DDT.
And the problem could be even worse, according to Christopher Connolly, a neurobiologist at the University of Dundee’s School of Medicine, recent studies only tested the honey for five neonics, but crop fields are sometimes sprayed with more than 20 chemicals and bees hop from field to field, Connolly says. So the honey could contain many more pesticides.
These findings are concerning not only for bees. Even though most studies have focused on how neonics harm honeybees, these pesticides are likely to harm many more insects, including butterflies, moths, and earthworms that live in contaminated soil, Connolly says. But our ecosystems need a variety of bugs to be strong and resilient, just as our crops need a variety of pollinators to survive. If we keep using pesticides indiscriminately, “we don’t know when we can expect a tipping point,” Connolly says. “This is a very dangerous strategy for human-kind to go down.”