A whirlwind of agricultural pesticides is destroying the web of life – good insects (honey bees), fish (salmon) and amphibians (frogs). There are undoubtedly more species at risk but I will only report on cases that I know of.
In 2008 a BiOp report by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) stated that three extremely toxic pesticides, chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion, are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of 27 endangered and threatened Pacific salmonids (salmon, trout and related). Of course, the manufacturers of these pesticides, e.g., DowAgroSciences, claim that this is nonsense and that NMFS studies are flawed. Who would you believe?
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, amphibians are the most threatened and rapidly declining vertebrate group of animals, and more than a third are listed as threatened species. One fungicide, “Headline” killed all frogs within an hour when applied at the recommended dose; dimethoate an insecticide applied on asparagus, cherries, tangerines and wheat, when applied at one-tenth the label recommended dose, killed 40% of all frogs within a week.
How about butterflies? An article in the New York Times describes how the annual migration of monarch butterflies sank to its lowest level in at least two decades. Their wintering area in Mexico dwindled from 50 acres to only 3 acres. Although recent droughts in the U.S. have contributed to the decline, experts believe that an explosive growth in used of herbicides on corn and soybean crops is implicated. In earlier times, the Midwestern corn belt was a major feeding ground, where the monarchs fed on milkweed that grew between rows of corn. The extensive use of herbicides on genetically modified corn crops wiped out the milkweed – the source of food for the monarch butterflies.
Lastly, consider the plight of honey bees – those insects that pollinate over a third of US crops – who are said to have an ailment, “colony collapse disorder.” This means that the bees cannot find their way back to the hive after foraging for pollen. Beekeepers estimate that 40 to 50 percent of hives have been wiped out. A class of insecticides called neonicotinoids is strongly implicated in the decline. They are used on soybeans, canola and sunflower fields, as well as on corn fields. Honey bees rely on corn pollen as a major source of protein. The pesticide is taken up by the plant’s vascular system and is expressed in the pollen and nectar of the corn (and other crops). The European Union Food Safety Authority recently proposed a two-year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. As usual, Europe is ahead of the U.S. in acting for environmental safety.
So, why should you care? What happens to the planet’s wild creatures is an omen of what is happening to humans – we are merely one small part of the planet’s ecosystem. The bees, butterflies, frogs and salmonoids are like the canaries that coal miners used to carry into the mine tunnels to warn of dangerous coal gas. The miners paid attention to the canaries – are we paying attention to the health of the non-human species?