Farmer-Owned Company Commits to Removing Bee-Toxic Neonicotinoids from Supply Chain
WASHINGTON—Center for Food Safety (CFS) today congratulated Preferred Popcorn, a fully farmer-owned company, for its leadership in taking a bold step toward removing bee-toxic insecticides from their popcorn supply. The most widely used class of insecticides, neonicotinoids, are harmful to both bees and the broader environment. For the past year, CFS has been working with popcorn companies to phase out the use of neonicotinoid seed coatings in their supply chains. The strong commitment from Preferred includes “not [purchasing] any seed treated with neonicotinoids for the 2017 [planting] season” and an addition of certified organic popcorn to its product line. Preferred is the third company to commit to phasing out uses of neonicotinoid seed coatings.
“We applaud the farmers at Preferred for their commitment to consumers and environmental health. It is heartening to see this farmer-owned company embrace a strong sense of corporate social responsibility,” said Larissa Walker, pollinator program director at Center for Food Safety.
There are roughly 40 insecticides currently registered for use as an active chemical on popcorn, including three bee-toxic neonicotinoid chemicals: clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid – which are often applied as coatings to a large percentage of popcorn seeds.
In many cases, especially with corn seed, the major agrochemical and seed company monopolies leave farmers with no choice but to use these pesticide-coated seeds. The four largest agrochemical and seed companies control nearly 60 percent of the global patented seed market, and as such, they have a vested interest in coupling seed sales with chemical sales. Unfortunately, the market is set up to promote the use of the chemicals, regardless of need or consequence.
“Too often farmers are unfairly blamed for problems with pesticides and bees. Preferred’s exemplary commitment to remove uses of neonic-coated seeds is an encouraging reminder of the critical role farmers can play in efforts to protect pollinators and the environment,” said Walker.
Seed coatings are a common but relatively new method of applying pesticides to crops. The seed is covered with the pesticide or pesticide mixture (fungicide and insecticide combinations are common), allowing the chemicals to be taken up into the plant as it grows – ultimately rendering the whole plant toxic. Yet, depending on the crop, only five percent of the active chemical applied to the seed actually enters the plant, leaving the remaining 95 percent to enter the environment through seed dust off, soil contamination, or water runoff.
Bees are exposed to the chemicals in flight and via the toxic dust that is released during seed planting. The dust can settle on nearby wildflowers and pose additional threats to bees when collecting pollen and nectar. A significant amount of the chemical on the seed is also absorbed into the surrounding soil and groundwater, allowing wildflowers and trees near crop fields to absorb the chemicals from the soil and present yet another route of toxic exposure for bees. The chemicals that persist in the soil also pose a significant threat to native bees, as 70 percent of native bees build their nests in the soil.