Bird and Insect Apocalypse: U.S. Is 48 Times More Toxic Due Pesticide Use

Child in a wheat field

According to a new study published in PLOS One, bees, butterflies, and other insect populations are dying in shocking numbers because the United States has increased its use of toxic pesticides by nearly 50x over the past few decades, reports Stephen Leahy in National Geographic. The U.S. agricultural landscape is now 48 times more toxic to honeybees and other insects than it was 25 years ago.

The insect apocalypse that’s happening right now is a result of our use of neonicotinoid pesticides, also referred to as neonicotinoids and neonics, which are made by Bayer-Monsanto.

Insect Apocalypse Due to U.S. Neonicotinoid Use

Neonicotinoids are used on over 140 different agricultural crops in more than 120 countries. They work by attacking the central nervous system of insects, which then causes paralysis and death.

Neonicotinoids are referred to as “systemic insecticides” because the plants they’re used on incorporate the toxins into all of their tissues, including their stems, leaves, pollen, nectar, and sap.

In addition, as I wrote about in my post about ways you can help bees, butterflies, and other insects, neonicotinoids are also found in genetically modified seeds.

But these toxins don’t just stay in the plants. They also contaminate soil, streams, ponds, and wetlands.

Populations of birds that eat insects have also plummeted as a result of these deadly pesticides.

Steve Holmer, a representative at the American Bird Conservancy, said in National Geographic, “It’s stunning. This study reveals the buildup of toxic neonics in the environment, which can explain why insect populations have declined.”

“Every bird needs to eat insects at some point in their life cycle.”

Scientists have been warning us about the insect apocalypse for years.

Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed
Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed. Photo: Derek Ramsey.

A 2014 global study of 452 species of insects found that:

  • 45 percent of all insects have died over the past 40 years.
  • In the U.S. alone, monarch butterfly populations have dropped by 80 to 90 percent in the last 20 years.
  • 81 species of butterflies in Ohio have declined by 33 percent in the last 20 years.

According to the authors of the Ohio study, butterflies can serve as a proxy for how the rest of the world’s 5.5 million species of insects are doing.

Kendra Klein, a senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth, and a co-author of the study published in PLOS One, compared the current die off of insects to those that occurred from the use of the chemical DDT up until the early 1970s. The science and nature writer Rachel Carson published her famous book Silent Spring about the subject in 1962.

“This is the second Silent Spring,” said Klein in National Geographic. “ Neonics are like a new DDT, except they are a thousand times more toxic to bees than DDT was.”

“The good news is that we don’t need neonics,” continued Klein. “We have four decades of research and evidence that agroecological farming methods can grow our food without decimating pollinators.”

Regenerative Farming Methods Are More Profitable

No-till farming
No-till farming helps with farm biodiversity and prevents soil erosion. Photo: USDA NRCS South Dakota.

According to a study published in PeerJ – the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences, farms that use neonics have 10 times the damage from insects and are 50 percent less profitable than farms that use regenerative farming methods instead of insecticides.

Both regenerative and agroecological farms use farming methods that include cover crops and no-till farming to maintain and even increase biodiversity and soil vitality.

According to Regeneration International, no-till farming maintains soil structure, including its ability to absorb and infiltrate water, which helps to reduce soil erosion and runoff, thus preventing pollution from entering nearby water sources.

Jonathan G. Lundgren, a co-author of the regenerative farming study, believes that farmers who are dependent on chemicals will likely go out of business.

“It’s painful to see when we have tested, scientifically-sound solutions. Working with nature is a good business decision,” he said.

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