Expert: Science-based decisions must guide pollinator pesticide use

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The controversy surrounding neonicotinoid pesticides – also known as neonics -- “is a complicated issue that requires robust debate,” Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project (GLP), recently told Crop Protection News.

Most importantly, “we cannot put ideology ahead of science” regarding the use of neon's to regulate pollinators such as honey bees, Entine, who is also a senior fellow at the Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy within the World Food Center at the University of California Davis, said. 

Specifically, anti-pesticide activist groups and environmental advocates have made the fight against neonics their signature issue, Entine said. Meanwhile, pesticide industry trade associations, among others, support reduced restrictions on neonics and have attacked this year’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moratorium on new neonic products and uses.

The White House also got involved earlier this year when it released its National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which calls for work to be conducted in assessing neonics, as well as other pesticides.

“We need to address these problems, which is why the White House got involved,” Entine said. “It’s a battlefield between science and politics, and each side thinks they’re right.”

For instance, Entine thinks there’s been a lot of false scientific-related information released by anti-neonic activist-scientists who are actually campaigning to outlaw the use of neonics. At the same time, according to the GLP, environmentalists appear to be cherry picking evidence and “manipulating data” from independent reports in order to support their predetermined “alarmist” claims about the impact pesticides have on pollinators and other wildlife.

In the United States, such dire claims that neonics are the probable killers of honey bees, butterflies, birds, etc., are not based on the facts, the GLP said. 

In acknowledging that bee populations have stabilized but do continue to struggle, Entine also said that neonics aren’t to blame and the decline in bees predated the introduction of neonics.

In looking at the big picture, Entine told Crop Protection News that pollinator health is extremely important to agriculture, and pesticides have their place in the industry.

“But there must be science-driven decisions made” about how and what types to use, he said.

In fact, the entire discussion around neonics should be focused on how the AG industry – which finds the use of pesticides necessary to grow crops – should “look for those having the least impact,” Entine said.

Because regardless of what crop is being grown, he added, there will always be concerns about pests.

The goal, Entine said, must be about finding “what’s most effective and does the least amount of collateral damage to the good insects and the soil.”

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Uc Davis

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