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New science: "Pesticide soup" scrambles bee brain function

Two new studies confirm that common pesticides are scrambling the circuits of bees’ brains. Researchers report that certain neonicotinoids and an organophosphate pesticide — particularly in combination — interfere with the insects' ability to learn, smell or remember, all critical capacities for foraging honey bees.

The new studies add to a growing body of evidence pointing to pesticides as a key driver to the dramatic losses in bee colonies reported by beekeepers.

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Bee-harming pesticides are bad news for birds, too

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Turns out, the pesticides that harm bees are also harming birds. According to a report out this week, the class of widely used, systemic insecticides that science shows are a key factor in dramatic bee die-offs are also contributing to falling bird populations.

At a congressional briefing yesterday, an expert panel highlighted the damage that neonicotinoid pesticides — or "neonics" — inflict on bees, birds and the agricultural economy. Beekeepers, scientists and public interest organizations called on elected officials to take action, and soon.

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Bumper crops in India, no GE required

Small farmers in the rural Indian state of Bihar are setting yield records for rice, potatoes and wheat — without the use of genetically engineered (GE) seed or pesticides.

Using an agroecology technique known as SRI, the farmers have more than quadrupled their previous yields. An official from the state's Ministry of Agriculture calls SRI "revolutionary."

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Minnesota says 'no thanks' to triclosan

Good news for public health and water quality from Minnesota this week. By June of this year, state agencies and institutions will no longer be buying soaps and cleaning products containing the pesticide triclosan.

Governor Mark Dayton made the shift with an executive order signed Monday. The new policy — the first of its kind in the country — comes in response to a combination of strong science and public concern about the chemical's prevalence and harms.

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First bees, now birds

Prairie bird populations are falling in many Midwestern states, from ring-necked pheasants to horned larks to sparrows. Scientists now say insecticides are a primary culprit.

Minnesota birds are hardest hit with 12 species in decline, followed by Wisconsin with 11, and Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska and New York with nine affected species each.

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Hormone disrupting chemicals a 'global threat'

A new technical report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Environment Program (UNEP) made a remarkable splash earlier this month, raising worries that hormone-disrupting chemicals currently on the market pose a "global threat" to human and ecosystem health.

In the paper, State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), scientists flagged serious concern about the level of endocrine-related diseases and disorders on the rise, including: low semen quality and non-descended testes in young males; breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers; early onset of breast development in women; and developmental effects on the nervous system in children.

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Soap pesticide found in MN lakes

Minnesota lakes contains triclosan, say researchers. An anti-bacterial pesticide found in soap, toothpaste and many other products, triclosan is currently being (slowly) evaluated by both EPA and FDA. Meanwhile, many companies have already pulled it from their list of ingredients in response to concerns about the chemical's health and environmental harms.

University of Minnesota scientists analyzed sediment from eight lakes to understand trends in contaminant levels over time. They found that levels of triclosan and its byproducts have gone up steadily since the chemical entered the market in the 1970s.

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Supreme Court battle: Farmer v. Monsanto

Today, 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer Hugh Vernon Bowman will face off with Monsanto in front of the Supreme Court. Five years ago, Monsanto sued Bowman for seed patent infringement and won. Now the high court will hear the farmer's appeal.

Monsanto's aggressive pursuit of patent infringement lawsuits like Bowman v. Monsanto is well documented in a recent report by the Center for Food Safety and Save Our Seeds. As of January 2013, the corporation had filed 144 suits against 410 farmers in 27 states. Corn and soybean growers across the country will be watching the outcome of today's case very closely.

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Atrazine in water costs Syngenta

Pesticide giant Syngenta kicked off 2013 by writing checks to communities whose water supplies have been contaminated with their endocrine-disrupting herbicide, atrazine.

According to the Associated Press, the money will go to community water systems that serve more than 37 million Americans in all, mostly in farming states — including Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Ohio — where atrazine has been commonly used to control weeds in corn fields.

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Common pesticides kill frogs, say scientists

Frogs exposed to commonly used pesticides in the lab had mortality rates between 40-100%, according to a new study in Germany. One fungicide, when applied at doses approved for use, caused frogs to die within an hour.

The new study provides strong support for earlier research pointing to pesticide exposure as a contributor to the global decline of amphibians, a disturbing trend that has puzzled researchers for years. Like canaries in a coal mine, frogs are often considered a "sentinel" species — and declines may be an early warning of broader harms.

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