Keep Britain buzzing

November 2012

Closeup of a honeybee on a pink flower
Photo by BugMan50 on Flickr
The Soil Association has presented a time-line of the relentless waves of pesticides used in agriculture since the birth of the 'Green Revolution' in the 1960s. As each chemical has been introduced into our environment, a fresh wave of destruction has unfolded.

Consider:
  • In the 1960s, DDT insecticide decimated bird populations; DDT was only banned in 1983
  • In the 1970s, organophosphate insecticides (originally developed as a nerve gas for the military) took their toll of aquatic wildlife; some organophosphates were only banned in 2007
  • In the 1980s, pyrethroid insecticides caused untold destruction to butterflies and bees; these were banned in sheep dips in 2010, but their use continues in other areas of agriculture
  • Since their introduction in the 1990s, neonicotinoid fungicidal seed treatments (which spread throughout the plant as it grows) have been disrupting bee behaviour, very likely to the point of colony collapse.
  • In 2004, after five decades of use, the herbicide and endocrine disruptor atrazine was banned
  • In 2012, after four decades of use, the herbicide and endocrine disruptor endosulfan was banned.
Superimposed on this toxic story, is glyphosate herbicide, the active ingredient of Monsanto's 'Roundup'. This weedkiller was launched in 1974 amidst the proud claim of being the safest on the market for people, wildlife and the environment.

In the 1990s, Roundup-tolerant GM crops hit the market and the use of the formula began to increase exponentially on most commodity crops. Around the same time, the patents on Roundup expired: the market and the environment were flooded with both Roundup and cheaper formulations of glyphosate. As time went on, agrichemical companies developed super-formulations of glyphosate which killed more efficiently.

Within a few short years, the year-on-year dousing with a single active chemical lead to the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds. Farmers first reacted to the new menace with more concentrated and more frequent applications of glyphosate, and then with cocktails of herbicidal mixes.

Very recently, the 'safe' image of glyphosate and Roundup have been severely tarnished. The Institute of Science in Society has summarised an appalling list of scientific studies suggesting health effects caused by glyphosate and its formulations. These include insidious damage to successful reproduction, to DNA and to nerve-cells besides endocrine disruption, mitochondrial dysfunction, and cancer. In all studies so far, Roundup formulae, which include agents to penetrate cells and magnify the action of glyphosate is proving even more toxic than glyphosate alone.

The studies cited have direct relevance to humans and other animals. These 'other animals' damaged include bees, our major pollinators.

Already, chronic exposure to low levels of neonicotinoids has doubled the natural loss of foraging worker bees, while queen bumblebee production has plummeted by 85%. What the combined toxic effects of pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, and glyphosate formulations on bees might be has not been studied, but their contribution to the current catastrophic collapse of bee colonies around the world must be taken seriously.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Inform yourself about glyphosate.

Check out the Institute of Science in Society's Special Report on 'Why Glyphosate Should Be Banned.

As far back as 1946, the Soil Association was already warning of the folly of excessive and unquestioning reliance on chemicals in agriculture. In 2012, it pledged:
“We will not rest until controls on all chemical pesticides take account of the potential impact of repeated, low doses of toxic chemicals on people and wildlife. We know agriculture can do without: the practical experience of 7,300 organic farmers farming 718,000 hectares of land are living proof that there is another way” 
Illustration of a bee on a black and yellow background
Check out the Soil Association's campaign to "Keep Britain Buzzing".

And for more on the links between GM crops and dead bees, check out HONEYBEES AND TOXIC GM SEEDS - February 2012.

SOURCES:
  • 50 years on - help us prevent another Silent Spring, Soil Association letter, October 2012
  • Keep Britain Buzzing, Soil Association leaflet, 2012
  • Why Glyphosate Should Be Banned, Institute of Science in Society Special Report, 10.10.12

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