Neonicotinoids are too effective and too persistent for their use to be controlled

Of course, bees do not forage in beet fields. But this argument, used as a piece of language by the government, masks a reality supported by hundreds of recent scientific works …

“Neonicotinoids are extremely dangerous, they are dangerous for bees, but well beyond bees, they are dangerous for our health, they are dangerous for our environment…” Barbara Pompili (March 2016). Photo: JLS (Click to enlarge)

In March 2016, when she pleaded for the ban of neonicotinoid insecticides , the current minister of ecological transition, Barbara Pompili, declared to the deputies: “Scientific studies are piling up. Today, (…) we can say what we want, neonicotinoids are extremely dangerous, they are dangerous for bees, but well beyond bees, they are dangerous for our health, they are dangerous for our environment , they contaminate waterways, they contaminate flora, including wild flora. They stay in the soil for a very long time. (…) We will not be able to say that we did not know. “

Promoted by agribusiness circles, taken up by the Minister of Agriculture, echoed by journalists and multiplied endlessly on social networks by thousands of little hands, a single element of language has swept away everything that. No one is unaware of it any more: “A bee, it will not go foraging in the beet fields . “ There would be no reason to worry about the back in the saddle of neonicotinoids on this crop, which must be submitted in the coming weeks in the national representation.

Of course, bees do not forage in beet fields. But the layout majesty of this argument masks a reality supported by hundreds of work lately, which made Ms. Pompili reference in March 2016: the neonicotinoids are too substances e ffi cient and too persistent for their use can be monitored. And all the more so since their solubility in water offers them a variety of unpredictable destinies.

In November 2019, Japanese researchers illustrated it so dramatically that their results, published in Science, go far beyond anything imaginable until then.

Homeopathic doses

Limnologist Masumi Yamamuro (University of Tokyo) and her colleagues looked at the yields of a large freshwater fishery in southwestern Japan, in Shimane Prefecture. Lake Shinji, the seventh largest lake in the archipelago, for decades provided an average of around 280 tonnes a year of two commercial species highly prized in Japanese gastronomy: wakasagi (Hypomesus nipponensis) and Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica ).

In 1993, imidacloprid – the first of the “neonics” marketed by Bayer – was authorized as a seed treatment on rice. It was first used in homeopathic doses . According to figures compiled by Japanese researchers, a little less than a hundred kilos of imidacloprid were used in 1993 on the scale of the 6,700 km2 of the prefecture of Shimane – that is to say almost nothing. In any case, almost nothing compared to the 25 tonnes of neonics that will be applied, from 2021, to more than 450,000 hectares of French sugar beets. But, due to the connection of the rice fields to the local hydrographic network, an unknown fraction of this almost nothing ended up in Lake Shinji, which covers nearly 80 km2. The retrospective analysis of the quality of the lake has shown that this tiny yet imidacloprid intake (less than 100 kilograms of product diluted in several hundred million cubic meters of water) has been able ffi to an e ANTIR almost instantaneously é ment zooplankton populations (arthropods, aquatic insects, etc.) of the lake.

Immediate consequence: the abrupt collapse of the catches of all the species that feed on them. In just one year, the wakasagi and eel catches literally collapsed. They have dropped from around 240 tonnes to 22 tonnes per year and from 40 tonnes to 10 tonnes per year, respectively. As neonics continued to be used relentlessly, these two species never recovered.

Epistemological teaching

Three lessons can be drawn from this work – which has not been denied since its publication. The first is that a negligible amount of neonics applied over a large territory can have a catastrophic effect on the ecology, and therefore the economy, of an entire region – it would be interesting to know what it is. happened to the fishing communities in the area and how they overcame or not this disaster. The second lesson is an immediate corollary of the first: no confidence can be placed in regulatory assessment systems for environmental risks . Bankruptcy of this magnitude is simply unforgivable.

Finally, and this is undoubtedly the most interesting, the third lesson is epistemological in nature. The collapse of Lake Shinji shows that technical innovations – neonics in this case – can have negative effects which, while enormous, can go under the radar for a long time without being documented. The absence of evidence, di ffi cult é or inability to administer the proof are hollow, interpreted as evidence of the absence of deleterious effects.

Between 1993 and the November 2019 publication in Science, a quarter of a century therefore elapsed without the link between the problems of the fishing communities of Lake Shinji and the introduction of a new pesticide being highlighted. This link, moreover, could very well never have been demonstrated – it was only due to the will of a few researchers to work on the subject.

So, during all this time, if the Shinji fishermen had complained to their supervising minister about the practices of their rice-growing neighbors, they would no doubt have been told with confidence that their concerns were unfounded. It is well known: “Fish are not going to forage in the rice fields. “


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