A few weeks ago, great news! The European Union banned three ‘bee killers’ – neonicotinoid pesticides. Three neonics with the, er, catchy names clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. The ban will come into force on 1st December this year, and it will last only for two years, so let’s not get complacent.
The bee-killing story doesn’t end with neonics. It’s also about another insecticide called fipronil. This one isn’t a neonic, it’s a phenylpyrazole.
Like the neonics, fipronil is a broad-spectrum insecticide. That means it kills all kinds of insects – ‘good bugs’ as well as ‘bad bugs’. It’s a neurotoxin, attacking the insects’ nervous systems. In fact it can attack other organisms too. Here’s some science from a decade ago, telling us how fipronil can be bad news.
This week the European Food Safety Authority said that scientists there are concerned about fipronil. They’re concerned about ‘dust drift’ when seeds are drilled into fields. They’re concerned also about pollen and nectar, which honeybees and wild bees are likely to forage. Due to that focus on flower parts, concern about fipronil is mostly about maize (Zea mays, sometimes called corn) and about sunflowers (Helianthus annuus).
Z. mays and H. annuus are grown here in Britain. In parts of continental Europe, where weather is relatively warm, those great crops really come into their own. Now that climates are changing we might see more of those crops here. Nobody forgets Claude Monet’s painting ‘Bouquet of Sunflowers’ but if we lose the bees, we’ll lose the sunflowers too.
I’m grateful to my fellow blogger Abigail Schindler at Science Politics for drawing attention to the concern about fipronil. Here’s what Damian Carrington at the Guardian says about the start of fipronil controversy.
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A point for thought: Is fipronil also responsible for the obesity epidemic?
This isn’t a flippant question. Your post made me wonder why we need to douse the globe in the colossal quantities of potent neurotoxins every year. According to agrochem companies we have a rapidly expanding population which need to be fed, and we can’t do that without their products. But is that really the case? Where are fipronil and it’s ilk largely used? Is it used to help feed the starving millions, or is it to ensure western supermarkets are filled with underpriced junk food that makes people obsese and ill but which has the biggest inflationary effect on the share price of Monsanto, Bayer etc.?
Great post Sam. I’m hoping the ban on neonic’s opens a wider debate on the irresponsible use of agrochemicals
Thank you for the compliment and for asking an interesting question. Recently I discussed on another person’s blog (forget which blog, oops) my opinion that the obesity epidemic has grown partly from the power of the N American corn (maize) industry. An industry which often supports the agrochem industry.
I hope you’re right about people debating agrochems. As yet I don’t know much about fipronil.
Good point Sam. The degree to which the government of the ‘worlds greatest democracy’ is in the pocket of financial powerblocks like the corn industry frightens me. It seems it’s all tied in with the flow of money to the top and there’s a general abdication of governmental responsibility to look after all the real people too.
Found the obesity conversation! I discussed obesity with our fellow blogger Moth on a post of mine https://argylesock.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/gm-isnt-feeding-the-world/
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This blog by Arglysock is very important to all of humanity. She writes about science and its impact on the landscape and the seas of the world.
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