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When Applied To Soybean Seeds, Neonicotinoid Pesticides Offer Negligible Benefits For Crop Yield, EPA Says

Insecticides: More effective insect controls are available, agency analysis concludes

by Britt E. Erickson
October 22, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 43

Credit: Shutterstock
Seed treatments help protect leaves from pests during a soybean plant’s first three to four weeks.
Soybean plants emerge in a cultivated field.
Credit: Shutterstock
Seed treatments help protect leaves from pests during a soybean plant’s first three to four weeks.

Treating seeds with neonicotinoid insecticides provides little or no benefit for soybean production, says a new analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency is reviewing this controversial class of pesticides because of mounting concerns that these chemicals are linked with a decline in bee populations.

Pesticide manufacturers are disputing the report, saying EPA did not consider all available information. Advocacy groups, meanwhile, say the analysis indicates that the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on soybeans should cease.

EPA’s analysis finds no difference in yield, in most cases, when soybeans are treated with neonicotinoids versus when they are not.

Today, about one-third of the soybeans planted in the U.S. each year are treated with neonicotinoid pesticides before planting, according to EPA. The two most widely used compounds for this purpose are imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

Pesticide manufacturer Syngenta, which makes thiamethoxam, says neonicotinoid seed treatments protect soybeans against early-season insects and provide “a favorable impact on cost and yield.” These treatments give protection to soybean leaves for the plant’s first three to four weeks. But, EPA points out, this isn’t when some pests targeted by the treatments, such as the soybean aphid, are the most active.

“Alternative insecticides applied as sprays are available and effective” against soybean pests, EPA says in the analysis, which was released on Oct. 16. Such alternatives are comparable in cost with neonicotinoids.

Environmental advocacy groups are welcoming EPA’s analysis. For years, these activists have urged EPA to ban neonicotinoid pesticides because of their potential to harm bees. “It is abundantly clear that the costs of neonicotinoids outweigh the benefits,” says Peter Jenkins, an attorney with the Center for Food Safety. Jenkins is leading a lawsuit against EPA about the use of neonicotinoids.

EPA is seeking public comments on its analysis of the benefits of neonicotinoid seed treatments for soybeans. The review could lead EPA to halt or restrict certain uses of neonicotinoid pesticides.



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