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Dear Friends and Colleagues

NeonicotinoidSeed Coatings Unnecessary, Ineffective and Harmful

Neonicotinoid(neonic) insecticides are known to cause significant harm to pollinators, aquatic organisms, birds, and possibly people. About 71 to almost 100 percent of corn are coated with neonic insecticides in the United States, affecting close to 90 million acres of farmland. Due to monopoly control by seed companies and the pesticide manufacturing industry, farmers can rarely find uncoated seed and are left without choice.

A new report shows that neonicotinoid seed coatings are largely unnecessary and ineffective. The report is the first of its kind to compile and analyze the peer-reviewed science on the efficacy of neonic corn seed coatings and to offer recommendations for viable alternatives for protecting both farmers and the environment.

The report shows that it is uncommon for neonic seed coatings to increase corn yield and that there is no reliable evidence that problems from targeted corn pests have increased substantially in recent years. It concludes that: "Neonic seed coatings are a prominent example of the reliance on expensive and harmful insecticides for the control of pests as a pale substitute for free biological control provided by advanced farming systems based on the science of agroecology. They are a symptom of even more extensive environmental harm and lack of sustainability caused by industrial farming." It cites that agroecological and other alternative farming methods that are not highly dependent on pesticides are available and result in high productivity.

The report makes several recommendations for government action which include: drastic restriction and eventual prohibition of the use of neonic seed coatings; providing resources for farmers to learn about and adopt profitable, ecologically and socially friendly alternative pest control methods; and requiring seed companies to make uncoated seed available. It also calls upon the US Environmental Protection Agency to release its analysis of the efficacy, benefits, and costs of neonic corn seed coatings, including harm to honeybee colonies and other beneficial organisms.

With best wishes,

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang
Malaysia
Email: twn@twnetwork.org
Websites: http://www.twn.my/ and http://www.biosafety-info.net/
To subscribe to other TWN information services: www.twnnews.net

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Item 1

LANDMARK REPORT SHOWS BEE-KILLING SEED COATINGS AREN’T WORTH THE HARM

Center for Food Safety

22 May 2017

http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/4957/landmark-report-shows-bee-killing-seed-coatings-arent-worth-the-harm#

Farmer and environmental friendly alternatives should replace toxic neonic seed coatings

WASHINGTON—A new report, Alternatives to Neonicotinoid Insecticide-Coated Corn Seed: Agroecological Methods are better for Farmers and the Environment, released today from Center for Food Safety, shows that environmentally harmful neonicotinoid (neonic) insecticide seed coatings are largely unnecessary and ineffective. The landmark report is the first of its kind to compile and analyze the peer-reviewed science on the efficacy of neonic corn seed coatings and to offer recommendations for viable alternatives for protecting both farmers and the environment.

Neonic-coated corn seed is the most extensive use of an insecticide on any crop in the United States, affecting close to 90 million acres of farmland, along with the broader environment. Neonic insecticides are known to cause significant harm to pollinators, aquatic organisms, birds, and possibly people. Yet harm from neonic-coated corn seed is unnecessary. As this report shows, agroecological and other alternative farming methods that are not highly dependent on pesticides are available and result in high productivity.

“For years we have seen dramatically increasing use of these toxic pesticide, yet the peer-reviewed research shows that they rarely protect farmer profit or crop productivity,” said Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, the report’s author. “What we’ve also seen is that industry-sponsored analysis of the chemicals’ efficacy relies heavily on non-peer-reviewed research, and contains several biases that overestimate the value of neonic seed coatings for improving corn yield.”

Dr. Gurian-Sherman’s report compiles and analyzes the peer-reviewed research in the field, which shows there is no need for neonic seed coatings to protect the productivity of corn. Data examined also shows that the so-called secondary pests targeted by the seed coatings are rarely a problem for farmers; and, in fact “the published peer-reviewed evidence reveals that [these early-season insect pasts] infrequently reduce corn productivity in the absence of insecticide use.”

Unfortunately, due to monopoly control by seed companies and the pesticide manufacturing industry, farmers can rarely find uncoated seed and are left without choice. Almost all corn seed is pre-coated by seed companies or their distributors. Farmers may also be lured by misinformation and industry scare-tactics that promote the seed coating as necessary to protect yield.

“One of the main reasons that neonic seed coatings are ubiquitous has nothing to do with yield or farmer profits, but rather monopoly control by seed and pesticide companies that make it extremely difficult for farmers to find and buy uncoated seed,” said Gurian-Sherman. “Yet farmers can almost completely avoid even already low rates of corn pest infestation by applying available, simple changes in farming practices that are beneficial to both their livelihoods and the environment.”

Significantly, Gurian-Sherman notes research which suggests that neonic seed coatings may sometimes actually decrease yields or reduce profit. This may occur because neonics may reduce the populations of organisms that normally help keep pest insects in check, and farmers may be unaware of this possibility when using the chemicals.

Because of the widespread contamination and harm associated with the overuse of seed coatings, particularly on corn, the report makes several recommendations for government action:

o   Greatly restrict the use of neonic seed coatings, eventually leading to prohibition;

o   Conduct surveys of farmers to understand why they may feel the need to use the seed coatings;

o   Provide resources for farmers to learn about and adopt profitable, ecologically and socially friendly alternative pest control methods;

o   Make affordable or subsidized insurance available for the rare cases where target pests might be a problem;

o   Conduct research to fill in gaps in our knowledge of the pests, and ecological practices that can control them;

o   Require seed companies to make uncoated seed available.

In addition, EPA should release its analysis of the efficacy, benefits, and costs of neonic corn seed coatings, including harm to honeybee colonies and any resulting reduced yields of pollinated crops; reduced production of honey and other bee products; harm to other pollinators and other beneficial and non-target organisms; financial harm to beekeepers and consumers; loss of ecosystem services; and market damage from contamination events.

Alternatives to Neonicotinoid Insecticide-Coated Corn Seed… makes clear that neonic seed coatings are a prime example of an expensive, chemically-dependent, pale substitute for free, ecologically and scientifically based advanced farming alternatives. They are a symptom of even more extensive farmer and environmental harm, and lack of sustainability caused by industrial farming.


Item 2

ALTERNATIVES TO NEONICOTINOID INSECTICIDE-COATED CORN SEED: AGROECOLOGICAL METHODS ARE BETTER FOR FARMERS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Doug Gurian-Sherman, Ph.D.

Center for Food Safety

May 2017

http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/alternatives-to-neonics_v9_23186.pdf

Executive Summary

Neonicotinoid (neonic) insecticides are heavily implicated in substantial environmental harm to pollinators, aquatic organisms, birds and possibly people. Neonic coated corn seed is the most extensive use of an insecticide on any crop in the United States, affecting close to 90 million acres of farmland, along with the broader environment.

Yet harm from neonic coated corn seed is unnecessary. As this report shows, agroecological and other alternative farming methods that are not highly dependent on pesticides are available and result in high productivity. These methods rely instead on knowledge of the ecology of corn pests and the use of biological diversity to ensure productivity and resilience, while minimizing pollution.

This report is the first detailed analysis of the peer-reviewed research on the efficacy of neonic seed coatings of corn that includes each of the most important early-season pests found in the U.S. Midwest and elsewhere. It is the first extensive analysis of non-insecticidal alternatives to neonics, which are not usually considered in efficacy field trials. Understanding these alternatives is critically important if we are to limit or eliminate the use of prophylactic seed coatings of corn—to the benefit of the environment—while at the same time supporting the vitality of farms. The report also analyzes the reasons for the dramatic exponential increase in the use of neonic seed coatings since the mid- 2000s, in order to better understand the reasons for the nearly ubiquitous use of these insecticides on corn.

This report shows that:

1. It is uncommon for neonic seed coatings to increase corn yield, even under current farming practices. Some scientists explicitly recommend against their use as a “cheap form of crop insurance” for growers;

2. The early-season insect pests targeted by neonic seed coatings of corn occur sporadically, and the published peer-reviewed evidence reveals that they infrequently reduce corn productivity in the absence of insecticide use;

3. Industry sponsored analysis that relies heavily on non-peer-reviewed research contains several biases that overestimate the value of neonic seed coatings for improving corn yield. It includes an undisclosed number of field trials designed to encourage higher levels of pests, which exaggerates the benefit of neonic seed coatings compared to typical commercial farms. It also includes an unknown number of trials for the major corn pests, corn rootworms. These pests can cause substantial yield losses if untreated, but there are more effective and more reliable alternatives than seed coatings to control them.

4. There is no reliable evidence that problems from these pests have increased substantially in recent years, contrary to some anecdotal claims. Experiments conducted over the past 15 years have not indicated that these pests have become common problems;

5. This belies the almost ubiquitous prophylactic use of neonic seed coatings. Research has shown that about 71 to near 100 percent of corn are coated with neonics, exposing a huge area of the country to these insecticides. And there is no evidence that the trend for treating the vast majority of corn seed will abate;

6. The conditions that may occasionally favor early-season corn pests can usually be avoided by small changes in farming practices that reduce the occurrence of early-season pest infestations without resorting to insecticides.

7. Some research suggests that neonic seed coatings may sometimes actually decrease yields or reduce profit. This may occur because neonics may reduce the populations of organisms that normally help keep pest insects in check. Farmers may be unaware of this possibility. This important issue should receive additional attention.

8. For all of the reasons stated above, only a limited acreage of corn would be treated with alternative insecticides if neonic seed coatings were restricted. For example, only about 30 percent of corn acres were treated with insecticides prior to the commercial introduction and rapid adoption of neonic seed coatings, and mainly for pests that are not the primary target of neonic seed coatings. And if ecological means of avoiding or controlling these pests were widely adopted, only a very small percentage of corn acres would rely on other insecticides.

9. Because it has been shown that those alternative insecticides are not more environmentally harmful than neonics, net harm would be greatly reduced with the elimination of prophylactic neonic corn seed coatings.

10. Any means of controlling pests can occasionally fail. The more beneficial social response, if deemed necessary, should be crop insurance for farmers rather than the use of harmful pesticides.

There is not a large amount of peer-reviewed research literature that analyzes the efficacy and yield benefit of neonic corn seed coatings for controlling early-season corn insect pests in the field; and there are even fewer data quantifying the prevalence and impact of these pests on corn yields. In other words, the current justification for the prophylactic use of these insecticides is based primarily on anecdote, or limited scattered research, not extensive published, peer-reviewed science. One purpose of this report is to collect and analyze the available peer-reviewed research and make it available in one place, to present a more coherent and cogent understanding of these issues. The result of this process shows that the early-season pests of corn are not often significant problems on farms. Given the considerable research supporting the high likelihood of extensive environmental harm caused by insecticidal seed coatings, and the effective alternatives that are available, there is no socially or environmentally responsible justification for continuing their unrestricted use.

As summarized in this report, neonic seed coatings are a prominent example of the reliance on expensive and harmful insecticides for the control of pests as a pale substitute for free biological control provided by advanced farming systems based on the science of agroecology. They are a symptom of even more extensive environmental harm and lack of sustainability caused by industrial farming.

The industrial farming system is antiquated, emerging from earlier industrial and green revolutions, and allows the transnational companies that have near monopoly control over pesticide and commodity seed sectors to acquire excessive profits. The almost ubiquitous coating of corn seed with neonics and other pesticides prior to purchase by farmers by these companies or seed dealers greatly limits the ability of farmers to choose non-coated seed if they prefer it. This allows seed and pesticide companies to benefit from the sale of products, such as unneeded insecticides that prop up the industrial model, at the expense of society broadly and at unnecessary cost to farmers.

 


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