You might already know that pesticides cause harm to biodiversity, humans, and the overall health of the planet. Recent evidence shows that they have also been impairing the health of many different bird species.

Neonicotinoids, or “neonics,” are insecticides that are most commonly used on the majority of corn and soybean crops in the U.S. They were first developed in the 1980s by Shell and Bayer. They are derived from nicotine and have a variety of uses, including veterinary medicine, farming, and lawn and garden control. They are applied to seeds as a coating. After the seed is planted and begins to grow, the pesticide is taken up by all the tissues of the plant, including the stem, roots, leaves, petals, nectar, and pollen.

If consumed, the neonics bind to the nerve cells of both insects and birds. This causes the creature to twitch and shake uncontrollably, which is followed by paralysis and eventually leads to death. Even small doses of neonics can cause damage to vital functions of birds such as memory, immune system, and reproduction.  A study by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) found that even one-tenth of a corn seed per day that has been contaminated by neonic pesticides can affect bird reproduction during egg-laying season.

Despite their continued use, many studies show that the use of neonics on seeds doesn’t increase production. There are some cases that show that using the pesticide can actually reduce crop yields. Despite these facts, they continue to be the most widely used pesticide in the U.S., affecting approximately 100 million acres a year. Furthermore, there is no law that requires manufacturers to prove that the product works as intended.

These products pose a long-term threat to both songbirds and biodiversity as a whole. Recently, the groups Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and ABC filed a petition with the EPA to propose an overhaul that will increase regulations for insecticides. This push was on behalf of 65 nonprofit groups who are pressing the EPA to eradicate a 1984 waiver that permits companies  to register pesticides without first submitting “efficacy” data showing that the product actually provides claimed benefits. Instead of requiring data on the costs versus the benefits of a pesticide application, in 1984 the EPA simply formally declared: “rather than require efficacy data the Agency presumes that benefits exceed risks”.

More specifically, the petition points to the fact that the 1984 decree’s failure to require sufficient data has resulted in sufficient harm to the environment. It also brings to light the mass amounts of extraneous seeds that were never planted.

There are many ways that you can help stop the spread of neonicotinoid pesticides. One of the best things you can do is to buy organic produce if you can afford it. Another step you can take is to select plants that are free from neonics at your local nursery.  When choosing gardening products, be sure to go with ones that don’t have neonics in them. To learn more, you can check out ABC’s fact sheet on how neonics affect birds.

Article by Danielle Hagerty

Source: The American Bird Conservancy