By Connor Lynch
Two recent data surveys by European research agencies have suggested that neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds not only pose a risk to bee health, but that neonics themselves aren’t even a particularly effective group of pesticides.
Critics, however, charge that the findings are overshadowed by a prejudice against neonics. Mainstream news media reported the survey findings without questioning the source.
The European Food Safety Agency, the equivalent of Canada’s Pest Management Risk Agency, released an analysis of scientific literature on Feb. 28, entitled “Neonicotinoids: Risks to bees confirmed.”
“Most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides represent a risk to wild bees and honeybees,” reads the first line in the analysis.
According to president and CEO of Croplife Canada, Pierre Petelle, that was almost a foregone conclusion. A guidance document created by the agency some years ago makes it nearly impossible for any inherently risky compound like a pesticide to be considered an acceptable risk. “It sets out a level for studies to demonstrate pollinator safety that is unworkable,” Petelle said.
Senior Fellow with American think-tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Angela Logomasini, said that the researchers found low risk where they had good data, but took a precautionary approach when they had little data, and called it high risk. The precautionary principle is what Ontario leaned on to restrict access to neonics, and it’s what European researchers used for their recommendations, she said.
The precautionary principle comes from environmental science, and recommends that new products or methods should be considered unsafe unless proven otherwise. According to the American Council of Science and Health, the precautionary principle is junk science favoured by environmentalists “because it is impossible to prove anything completely safe.” The precautionary principle would have banned the automobile, the council says.
In a second literature review, The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, a European research group, concluded that management practices such as field rotation and planting naturally resistant varieties were more effective than neonics in controlling pests.
“This is not a credible, scientifically-based organization,” Petelle stated bluntly. “What they’re doing is mining existing studies. When the study supports their point of view, they use it. Otherwise, they don’t include it.”
Petelle added that “there’s a whole body of evidence” that organizations like Health Canada’s Pest Management Risk Agency rely on, both before and after approving products. “When you look at the whole body of science, what is it telling us? It’s telling us this is a sustainable technology, and it is safe for pollinators and for humans.”
On its website, the European task force states that “a new generation of pesticides, the persistent, systemic and neurotoxic neonicotinoids, introduced in the mid 1990’s, might be considered one of the main causes of the escalation in decline (in insect populations.)”
Said Petelle: “It was noted early on that there seemed to be an agenda that systemic pesticides were negative, and all they needed to do was search for data to support it.”