Two insecticides used in Costa Rica a risk for human nervous system: EU

BRUSSELS, December 17, 2013 (AFP) – The EU warned Tuesday that two widely used insecticides, one of which has already been implicated in bee population decline, may pose a risk to human health.

The neonicotinoid insecticides acetamiprid and imidacloprid “may affect the developing human nervous system,” the European Food Safety Authority said, the first time such a link has been made.

As a result, experts wanted “some guidance levels for acceptable exposure … to be lowered while further research is carried out to provide more reliable data on developmental neurotoxicity (DNT).”

The EFSA said its opinion was based on recent research and existing data on “the potential of acetamiprid and imidacloprid to damage the developing human nervous system — in particular the brain.”

The research suggested the two insecticides “may adversely affect the development of neurons and brain structures associated with functions such as learning and memory,” the EFSA said in a statement.

“It concluded that some current guidance levels for acceptable exposure … may not be protective enough to safeguard against developmental neurotoxicity and should be reduced,” the EFSA added.

Earlier this year, the European Union restricted the use of a series of insecticides made by Swiss chemicals giant Syngenta and its German peer Bayer on concerns they were responsible for a catastrophic decline in bee populations

In May, it banned for two years the use of imidacloprid — cited in Tuesday’s action — and clothianidin produced by Bayer, along with thiamethoxam made by Syngenta, to treat seeds or be sprayed on soil or plants and cereals which attract bees.

In July, it restricted the use of fipronil, made by Germany’s BASF, for similar reasons.

Bee numbers have slumped in Europe and the United States in recent years due to a mysterious plague dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD), sparking concerns crop pollination and so food production could be put dangerously at risk.

It is estimate bees account for some 80 percent of plant pollination by insects.

The companies involved insist that their products are not at fault and Sygenta and Bayer said in August they would take legal action against Brussels.

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    • expatin paradise

      These neonicotinoid poisons have no place in Costa Rica. They are not only connected to health problems in humans but also to bee colony collapse. Butterfly population declines have also been noted in the US, where these chemicals are still used. Without bees and other pollinators, crops will fail and famines will result. Costs Rica needs to ban these toxins immediately to maintain its reputation as a “green” country. As it is, the European Union is ahead of us in this regard.

      • Ken Morris

        You are better informed than I am, so I’m curious about your thoughts regarding GMOs. My understanding is that CR uses lots of insecticides, selectively introduced GMOs can minimize insecticide use, yet the crusade now is against GMOs. Isn’t this a tradeoff and might not the anti-GMO forces be making the wrong call?

        • expatin paradise

          For the vast majority of GMOs, there has not been sufficient testing for them to be on the market or even planted in other than very controlled situations. They cross pollinate with other crops, contaminating the entire food supply. There have been some studies that indicate that they are not as nutritious as their bred counterparts. Ironically, other studies show that GMOs require as many, if not more, chemicals (a win-win for the chemical companies that create the GMOs and the chemicals they require). The Monsanto GMOs are engineered to be “roundup ready”, able to tolerate high applications of Monsanto’s famous herbicide. The USDA and FDA are considering higher acceptable levels of these products in food, even though they are detrimental to health, especially in small children. These chemicals are also being washed into waterways, posing hazards to wildlife, and to people through the water supply. Additionally, most seed for GMOs are coated with neonicotinoids, which makes them a triple threat. Since 80% of corn and soy grown in the US are GMOs, all of those processed foods containing either ingredient (virtually all processed foods), contain these insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.

          Ironically, while most cantons in CR have now resolved to be GMO-free, most are probably already home to GMOs. Almost all Hawaiian papayas have been GMOs for twenty years or longer (they made the genetic change to save the industry from a fungus). As many of us have papaya plants grown from these seeds, many of our local papayas are GMOs. While I know of no health problems related to GMO papayas, there are probably local growers who are now violating their cantons’ positions.

          My bottom line is that much more research is required to prove GMOs to be safe and nutritious before they should be in the food supply. Some, like papayas, are probably OK, but we simply do not know enough. Likewise, chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers need to be tested thoroughly before they should be put into wide use. New research shows that our DNA “hangs on to” chemicals to which our grandparents were exposed. If chemical contaminants can affect later generations, I am concerned for not only the health of my grandchildren but also for their grandchildren. I strongly suspect that we, and our parents, have cursed all future generations.

          • Ken Morris

            Thanks, this is just the kind of informed response I was hoping for.

            My sense as a science outsider, and I wonder if you agree, is that the fundamental problems are political and economic, not scientific. I think we want some pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, as well as some GMOs, insofar as there has been sufficient unbiased research to suggest that the yield/risk tradeoff is beneficial in a given case. Starvation and malnutrition aren’t desirable goals either. The problem however is that the outfits doing the research and promoting the products are hardly unbiased, but are rather out to make a buck, and there’s a lot of at least anecdotal evidence of these corporations tweaking and even falsifying the evidence. The responsibility for assessing the innovations therefore falls on public entities like the Ministry of Agriculture, which raises the questions of (1) whether they are competent and (2) whether they are honest. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they are understaffed and overworked as well frankly tempted by bribes. At minimum, the information they receive probably comes mostly from industry representatives. In all, we may have a situation in which the fox is guarding the hen house.

            My concern at this point in CR is that I’m not sure many of the activists opposing GMOs know the science any better than I do. (One of my bartenders is an agronomy major at UCR and swears that many of the opponents of GMOs are science illiterates.) It’s no better to have unformed public opinion direct public policy than it is for corporations to direct it. What we need, I think, is a good committee of independent scientists to assess the evidence on a case-by-case basis.

            Of course, with you I prefer proceeding very slowly. Too many of these kinds of innovations are introduced too quickly, IMO, and only later do we discover that the introduction was a bad call. Plus, CR isn’t confronting the kind of famine situation that would justify taking unnecessary risks. There’s no reason to rush this stuff. However, I hate to see an overreaction in the other direction. Ideally the policy decisions will be made based upon the science rather than profits or public sentiment.

            • expatin paradise

              I agree that the fundamental problem is political. The agri-chemical companies own the US congress, the FDA, and USDA, as is evidenced by what is called the “Monsanto protection law.” There is plenty of reason to believe that most of the research used by these companies was fabricated. The industry has spread much disinformation about the safety of their products and succeeded so far in blocking all attempts to have GMO content labeled as such in the US, although the initiative in Washington State fell one point short of passing last month. The US is forcing these products on the rest of the world through its trade agreements.

              These GMO products aren’t limited to corn and soy – GMO potatoes and salmon are already being raised, and GMO apples are poised for approval. GMO wheat has not been approved, but has already entered the food supply in the US. I have also read recently of a new GMO rice. High-fructose corn syrup is widely used as a sweetener in everything from soft drinks to pancake syrup in the US, and other corn and soy products can be found in almost any processed food.

              If the food industry simply labeled GMO products universally, as they do for export to some 64 countries (even China), people could choose to avoid them. I would like to see CR join those countries, which would not be burdensome to food manufacturers because they already label GMOs for several other Latin American countries. The fact that the industry refuses to be honest with consumers unless forced to do so is what really gets to me.

            • Ken Morris

              Thanks for fleshing out the US politics aspect too, including how that affects other countries via so-called fair trade treaties. Mandatory labeling of the products wouldn’t seem to address the larger issues, and could even backfire if in the name of “consumer choice” the need for broader oversight is ignored, but it’s such an easy and reasonable first step that I certainly support it. Thanks again.

          • Yeims

            Very nice post, nice exchange of info.

            • Timothy Williams

              Agreed. Nice to see people having thoughtful, respectful discussion here.

    • Vasillios

      This should be the last nail in the coffin for these toxins!