America's agricultural landscape is now 48 times more Toxic to honeybees, and likely other insects, than it was 25 years ago, almost entirely due to widespread use of so-called neonicotinoid pesticides, according to a new study published this month in the journal PLOS One. From a report: This enormous rise in toxicity matches the sharp declines in bees, butterflies, and other pollinators as well as birds, says co-author Kendra Klein, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth US. "This is the second Silent Spring. Neonics are like a new DDT, except they are a thousand times more toxic to bees than DDT was," Klein says in an interview. Using a new tool that measures toxicity to honey bees, the length of time a pesticide remains toxic, and the amount used in a year, Klein and researchers from three other institutions determined that the new generation of pesticides has made agriculture far more toxic to insects. Honey bees are used as a proxy for all insects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does the same thing when requiring toxicity data for pesticide registration purposes, she explained. The study found that neonics accounted for 92 percent of this increased toxicity. Neonics are not only incredibly toxic to honeybees, they can remain toxic for more than 1,000 days in the environment, said Klein. "The good news is that we don't need neonics," she says. "We have four decades of research and evidence that agroecological farming methods can grow our food without decimating pollinators." "It's stunning. This study reveals the buildup of toxic neonics in the environment, which can explain why insect populations have declined," says Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy. As insects have declined, the numbers of insect-eating birds have plummeted in recent decades. There's also been a widespread decline in nearly all bird species, Holmer said. "Every bird needs to eat insects at some point in their life cycle."
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