This really sucks.
Not only does the evidence keep mounting that neonicotinoids are a major culprit in the disappearance of bees and other pollinators, but The Guardian reports that these widely used pesticides are directly implicated in a decline in bird populations too:
Peer-reviewed research, published in the leading journal Nature this Wednesday, has revealed data from the Netherlands showing that bird populations fell most sharply in those areas where neonicotinoid pollution was highest. Starlings, tree sparrows and swallows were among the most affected. At least 95% of neonicotinoids applied to crops ends up in the wider environment, killing the insects the birds rely on for food, particularly when raising chicks.
The researchers examined several potential causes of bird population declines, including the intensification of farming practices, but they found that neonicotinoid use was far and away the most prominent factor. Lead researcher Hans de Kroon told The Guardian: “That is why it is so disturbing. There is an incredible amount of imidacloprid in the water. And it is not likely these effects will be restricted to birds.”
This is timely news indeed, given that Syngenta was recently seeking an exemption from Europe's neonicotinoid ban. (The company has since withdrawn that application, but may reapply next year.)
Even if farmers are right in their claim that they'd face significant losses without neonicotinoids this year, there comes a time when they have to ask: what kind of losses will they face long term with fewer birds, bees and other species that play such a central roll in a healthy ecosystem.
There's already plenty of reason to believe that a holistic, agroecological approach to farming can outperform chemically dependent agriculture in many situations. We can no longer afford to assess the safety of any one chemical or farming practice in isolation—overall system health has to be our number one priority.