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News: Are Neonicotinoids the Next DDT?


October 27, 2017

DDT, introduced in 1940 and widely used during WWII to fight typhus and malaria, was one of the first chemicals distributed for widespread use as an agricultural and home and garden pesticide.  Once promoted as a wonder chemical used to eliminate insects (regardless of whether they were harmful), today DDT is classified as a probable human carcinogen by U.S. and international authorities.  

Some 77 years later, are we repeating this mistake with the widespread use of neonicotinoids?

Developed in the 1990s, the neonicotinoids Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam, Dinotefuran, and Acetamiprid are now the world’s most widely used insecticides.  A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that neonicotinoids (neonics) negatively impact bee health.  

Because they are systemic chemicals absorbed into a plant, neonics can be present in both pollen and nectar, making plants toxic to pollinators that feed on them.  The potentially long-lasting presence of neonicotinoids in plants, although useful from a pest management standpoint, makes it possible for these chemicals to harm pollinators even when the initial application is made weeks before the bloom period.

Tens of millions of acres of neonicotinoid-coated seed are planted annually in the United States and Canada.  Neonics can persist in the soil and continually be taken in by plants for months to years.  Neonicotinoids are highly water soluble and slow to biodegrade, so they can contaminate surface water supplies and build up in sediments or soils.  They can move into water and have been found in a range of water bodies, where they may persist.

In the European Union, a temporary ban was imposed on the use of neonics on flowering crops in 2013.  It is expected that the European Commission will vote by the end of this year on making the ban permanent.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service phased out all uses of neonicotinoids in the National Wildlife Refuge System in January 2016.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has open dockets for risk assessments of all five neonicotinoid pesticides, with planned completion in 2018.

What can individuals do at home and in their communities?

  • Sign the Pollinator Protection Pledge

  • Avoid buying products containing neonics.  Click here for a brochure of products to avoid.

  • Let your local nurseries and big box stores know that you no longer will support them if they continue to sell products containing or plants grown with neonicotinoids

Download the GCA’s position paper on Sustainable Agriculture, Seed Diversity, and Food Security

Read the GCA’s letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calling for the elimination of the neonics class of chemical pesticides, or at minimum, the labeling of all neonic-infused plants.


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