There are two toxic pesticides: Rotenone and Azadirachtin, that need to be banned in order to ensure the safety of humans, bees and the environment. There is insufficient data on either of these toxins yet they are tolerated on American and European markets merely because they are natural bio-pesticides used by organic farmers. A toxin, whether naturally or synthetically produced, is still a toxin with the intended purpose to kill and the evidence is clear – these natural chemicals kill. The hypocrisy of regulators and the organic lobby to come down only on the well-tested synthetic pesticides and look the other way on natural toxins because of the noise created by the green activists is another toxic disease that must be controlled.
Rotenone: Killer of Bees, Fish and Humans
Rotenone is a highly toxic bio-insecticide coming from a natural source (from seeds, stems and roots of several plant species) that is harmful to humans and animals, particularly aquatic species, and the environment. Research has shown it to contribute to the onset of Parkinson’s disease and it is believed to be harmful to bees (especially when combined with pyrethrins … also used by organic farmers). Although extremely persistent, it has a short active period and needs to be applied on crops quite frequently.
Rotenone can be fatal to humans but its use as a piscicide is indicative of its natural nastiness. Rotenone has been used as a traditional equivalent to blast fishing (dynamite fishing). I wish I were making this up, but by sprinkling this organic pesticide on the water, the fish lose their capacity to breathe, become immobilised and come to the surface for air, making for easy pickings for lazy fishermen. I suppose people who support organic farming do not worry about any rotenone runoff getting into the water table.
The Xerces Society came out with a clear warning to organic farmers to be careful when using rotenone because of the risks it poses to bees (“Rotenone is extremely harmful and not compatible with bees”). This warning was in 2009 but politely ignored by organic farmers who have since kept rotenone in their pest arsenal.
The American FDA and EPA do not have adequate data on rotenone since those manufacturing this organic pesticide (mostly Chinese companies) have not bothered to comply and it is kept on the market for its efficient fish elimination (please note that this blog is not a parody). Thus they are unable to properly regulate on the poison but as its source is natural, there does not seem to be the urgency to act. There is no evidence in the EU that EFSA is acting on rotenone and organic discussion forums show that rotenone is still widely used and sold in both Europe and North America.
The point is that rotenone, like any pesticide whether natural or synthetic, is designed to have sufficient toxicity to kill insects and other undesired threats to farmers. People have to stop thinking that organic farmers are using more benign products to kill their pests. They are just using products and toxins with very little research or regulatory control and this is plain stupid.
The campaign against rotenone
Well, there is no campaign. The double-standards here, where natural toxins are blindly tolerated and well-tested synthetic toxins are banned without evidence, are offensive beyond belief.
Pesticides Action Network UK came out with a sheepish acknowledgement that rotenone was really bad news for humans, animals and the environment, but tread carefully lest they appear to obstruct organic farmers from their access to toxins to control pests. Note the gobbledygook they passed off as responsible protectors of human health and the environment:
PAN UK believes that the same precautionary principle should be applied to all pesticides, and that no substance, however long-term its use, should be assumed to be safe without scientific assessment. The problems evident for rotenone – insufficient usage data, inconclusive studies, concern about unknown synergistic activity with other substances, and potential health hazards, are consistent with problems found with the majority of registered agrochemicals.
Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot!!!
“… are consistent with problems found with the majority of registered agrochemicals” … so, what are you saying, PAN, that rotenone should have more studies? Or is it more like, well, we kind of support banning rotenone, but only if we ban all other synthetic pesticides first. Unbelievable – how foggy does PAN have to be before it becomes a complete joke? According to PAN (on the same link above), “The current regulatory system, designed for synthetic agrochemicals, impedes research into, and registration of, least toxic, relatively benign pest control substances.” So rotenone is relatively benign? It kills humans, bees and fish!!!
I stand corrected: PAN is a complete joke.
Azadirachtin: The “Natural” Bumblebee Exterminator
Those who think a natural toxin (and thus acceptable for organic farming pest control) is less damaging or toxic than well-tested synthetic pesticides are quite frankly very stupid. Cue our friends at the UK organic lobby, the Soil Association, who illegally granted special permission to organic farmers to use azadirachtin on apples. Azadirachtin is a natural pesticide (it is also called neem or neem oil after the tropical tree from which its toxins are extracted) with a long history of use in organic farming. It is approved as an organic pesticide in most EU countries despite lack of data (but not as a pesticide in the UK).
Now the problem is that last week the European Commission concluded that azadirachtin, commonly used by organic farmers in Europe, is seriously fatal to bumblebees even at “concentrations 50 times lower” than the recommended levels for organic farmers. The study showed that only 30% of the bumblebees survived exposure at any dose level of azadirachtin. Azadirachtin may be natural and promoted for organic farming but it is deadly to bees (although perhaps in an organic way).
Why then do organic farming organisations think that using these toxins are OK? See a recent article that assures organic gardeners that azadirachtin (as neem oil) is safe, non-toxic and has no effect on bees. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) has been lobbying the European Commission to keep azadirachtin on the market (with less stringent data requirements) because there are no other alternatives for organic fruit production. Uhm, how about safe, well-tested synthetic pesticides that do not wipe out bee populations?
I have written elsewhere how the organic industry lobby does not hesitate to use unethical practices to gain market share and public support. But if you are blinded by the belief that natural is always good, then you don’t see it as lying, you don’t see the negative consequences of your toxic pesticides and you don’t see the contradictions of your lobbying. You are just blind … and very vocal. But isn’t it sweet that the UK Soil Association has been caught supporting the bumblebee exterminator while they are one of the leading voices demanding a permanent ban on neonicotinoids “to save the bees”! Now the Soil Association say they need to retrain their staff … understatement of the year! I hope they train them to not be so blinded as to think natural toxins are better than scientific toxins.
And what do our jokesters at Pesticide Action Network have to say about azadirachtin? PAN recommends this organic bee-killer as an alternative to several neonicotinoids. So a toxic chemical used in organic farming that wipes 70% of bumblebees out at concentrations 50 times lower than the recommended organic farming levels is considered as a safer alternative than well-tested neonicotinoids. This type of lobbying should be criminalised (but large-scale bee deaths don’t count for much in a court of law).
I really don’t get this at all. When faced with the possibility that the data on neonicotinoids is not sufficient to be certain that they cause no potential risk to honeybees, the activists in DG Santé go full-frontal precaution. And yet faced with its own clear evidence of a natural pesticide used by organic farmers that literally exterminates bumblebees at very low doses, and everybody in Michael Flüh’s unit sheepishly look away. How do you spell stupid???
Potential cause for bee decline: The increased use of organic pesticides?
Time for some counter-intuitive thinking. Anti-chemical industry NGO campaigners and their activist scientists at the IUCN Taskforce on Systemic Pesticides have been claiming a correlation between the decline of bee populations and the increased use of neonicotinoids. Now the correlation is not very accurate since bee populations were falling before neonics came into widespread use and in certain areas where neonicotinoids are widely used there has been no issue of bee decline. Likewise, areas in France and Slovenia where neonicotinoids were banned did not see a re-flourishing of bee populations.
However, the correlation of declining bee populations and increased organic farming do seem, at first sight, to be more accurate. In other words, the wider use of less-tested organic pesticides like rotenone and azadirachtin may be having an adverse affect on pollinators. As activists like PAN, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are campaigning for more organic food, and given the highly toxic and untested pesticides that organic farmers use, there is the possibility that the health and survival of pollinators will be put more at risk.
I would like to see the organic industry activist scientists demonstrate, along the same lines of data requirements demanded on conventional crop protection substances, that organic toxic pesticides are not more responsible for the decline in pollinator health than neonicotinoids. If the organic industry can succeed in this challenge, then the Risk-Monger will cease blogging on bees or the organic industry’s perceived hypocrisy.
There is a need for further study here, but who am I kidding? The European Commission will not overturn the precautionary ban on neonicotinoids (despite the lack of any impact assessment, the devastation it has since wreaked on farmers and its well-known irrelevance to bee health) nor will they consider confronting the organic activist lobby with facts from their own studies. This is not about saving the bees, never was, but rather about hitting the chemical industry hard while running an apocalyptic fear campaign to promote organic agriculture. It seems that being a hypocrite is a prerequisite for working in DG Santé.
The need for an “Idiot Test”
The European Commission needs to impose an “Idiot Test” to be applied to all actors before allowing them to participate in stakeholder dialogue events on farming and crop protection. The Risk-Monger will volunteer his time towards drafting the questions for this entrance test. One particular question the Commission could ask would be:
Do you believe that the toxic chemicals that organic farmers use need not be judged by the same standards or data requirements as other, synthetic pesticides?
If the activists answer yes, or claim that organic farmers do not use toxic chemicals, then they should definitely not be allowed to participate in any EU stakeholder consultations. They are clearly idiots!
Perhaps regulators should also be given the Idiot Test – I can think of a few people in DG Santé who might have problems passing it.
Author : David Zaruk
, azadirachtin, DG Santé, Idiot test, Michael Flüh, neem, neem oil, neonicotinoids, organic, organic pesticides, Pesticides Action Network, pollinator health, rotenone, save-the-bees, Soil Association, xerces