EPA Says Neonics Seriously Threaten Birds

04.01.2018 -

Multiple scientific assessments released by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the end of 2017 are said to show that commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) pose serious risks to birds of all sizes as well as to aquatic invertebrates. Both play a crucial role in supporting larger ecosystems.

The EPA found that risks posed to certain birds from eating neonic-treated seeds exceeded its “level of concern” threshold – the level at which harm is known to occur — by as much as 200-fold.

The US environmental watchdog, which has had some of its enforcement teeth pulled by current administrator, Scott Pruitt, also pointed to a recent scientific study showing that, along with killing birds, the neonic pesticides “significantly impair” the migratory ability of seed-eating songbirds.

Eating neonic-treated seeds could seriously harm birds, even if they constitute only 2-6% of the diet, this analysis discovered. Analyses carried out by the EPA in the past already had identified substantial risks to pollinators and aquatic invertebrates from this class of pesticides.    

“The EPA’s assessments confirm neonicotinoid pesticides are extremely harmful to birds and aquatic life at the very center of our ecosystems,” commented Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program.

“With bird, aquatic invertebrate and bee populations in decline, the only way to prevent further catastrophic damage is to follow Europe’s lead and ban these dangerous pesticides,” Burd said.  However, “while other developed nations wisely restrict the use of neonics, the US has refused to take even the most basic steps.”

The EU has not completely neonicotinoid pesticides altogether. The European Commission is due to decide this year whether to make permanent a temporary ban imposed in 2015 because of the pesticides’ potential threat to pollinators.

The European debate on neonics is shaping up to be just as controversial as the debate over extending the registration of glyphosate, which ended in a three-year extension compromise late last year.

Canada’s pesticide regulatory agency has recommended banning the most widely used neonics, due to the harm they can cause to aquatic ecosystems. For its part, the EPA is currently reanalyzing the impacts of neonics on humans and the environment and plans to decide by the end of 2018 whether to whether to reapprove their use.

“In 2017, a common-sense rule that would have placed limited restrictions on neonics, when commercial honeybees were present in fields, was changed from by the EPA from mandatory to voluntary,” Burd noted. Environmental advocacy groups fear that the current administration’s consistent watering-down of ecological legislation passed by previous administrations does not bode well for protection of endangered species.