Chemicals Pollinators, Molluscs and Other Invertebrates

2023 April: Chemicals

In this post, I’ll explore some recent stories about pesticides beginning with an update on Ontario’s pesticide regulations.

Ontario Pesticide Ban

Since 2008, Ontario has had a ban on cosmetic use of pesticides, meaning most pesticides are no longer allowed in home gardens. The Act and associated regulations were amended in 2019-2020 so Ontario’s rules are more closely aligned with the federal laws. Before a pesticide (pest control product) can be sold or used in Ontario, it must be registered under the federal Pest Control Products Act (PCP Act). The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) of Health Canada registers pesticides for use in Canada following an evaluation of scientific data to ensure that any human health and environmental risks associated with its proposed uses are acceptable, and that the products have value. (From OMAFRA page on Using Pesticides in Ontario.)

With the alignment of Ontario regulations to those at the federal level, the way in which Ontario now categorizes pesticides has been streamlined. The new classification system reduces Ontario’s former Classes 1 through 7 to four classes – Class A (manufacturing), Class B (restricted), Class C (commercial) and Class D (domestic). The former Class 12 will be changed to Class E in the Pesticides Regulation, a stand-alone class specific to neonicotinoid-treated seeds. Also, Ontario’s Pesticides Advisory Committee, which used to provide advice to support classification, has been eliminated.

Training, licensing and permitting requirements are established for the new classes of product to help educate farmers and vendors. Previous exemptions to the general cosmetic pesticides ban have been retained, including exemptions for golf courses, forestry, health and safety, etc. However, the former classes 7-11, which were previously used to manage the ban, have been replaced by a single list of allowed pesticides. Cemeteries were added as an excepted use to the cosmetic pesticides ban, but with conditions such as training in Integrated Pest Management and producing an annual report of pesticide use. (Source: Ontario introduces significant amendments to the Pesticides Act and the Pesticides Regulation.)

Ontario Ministry of Energy and Environment offers information Natural ways to manage pests in home gardens, which includes a list of allowable products for homeowners’ use. Incidentally, I came across one wonderful expression of free (but crazy) speech. Pesticide Truths appears to be the brainchild of someone who goes by the handle “UncleAdolph”. I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that Adolph was Hitler’s first name. The site argues forcefully for ending all pesticide bans and features downloadable posters of chubby babies happily playing on pesticide-laced lawns. Great for parents who want their children to suffer developmental delays and risk getting cancer.

So-called ‘safe’ pesticides not so safe

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Health Canada is currently reviewing regulations for pesticides in Canada, and three UBC researchers say regulators might want to consider what happened in Japan. A lake in Shimane Prefecture has seen its commercial fishery collapse by more than 90% since 1993, when insecticides known as neonicotinoids were first introduced to the area. It just so happens that zooplankton—the tiny creatures in the water that fish feed on—declined by 83% during the same period. That’s just one example of the unanticipated ripple effects of pesticides uncovered by UBC ecologists Dr. Risa Sargent, Dr. Juli Carrillo and Dr. Claire Kremen in their review of recent science.

They also found concerning research about glyphosates. Use of this weed-killer has increased 100-fold in recent decades. Because it targets an enzyme that exists only in plants, it was thought to be perfectly safe for animals. However, a study last year showed that it alters the mix of bacteria and microbes in bees’ intestines, while also disrupting their ability to keep hives at the optimum temperature.

A third study showed that the use of neonicotinoid in a cornfield produced no increase in corn yields but did depress yields and profits in nearby watermelon fields by 21%. The paper is published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

Bland strawberries could be due to pesticides

Organic strawberries from Rebecca’s community garden. Photo by R. Last.

Have you ever bitten into a plump, red strawberry, only to find it bland and watery? Certain pesticides might be responsible. A team reporting in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has found that two common strawberry fungicides can impact cellular mechanisms, creating berries with subdued flavor and sweetness, as well as a lower nutritional value.

(See also: Bland strawberries? Blame the pesticides)

Bees’ pesticide risk varies

A researcher carefully collects a pollen sample from a bee. Credit: Daphne Wong.

In a new study, ecologists have shown that bees’ pesticide exposure depends upon their interaction with the environment, meaning different species face different risks in any given environment. According to the ecologists, increased agricultural land surrounding bees increases pesticide-related risk, but only for the solitary bee and bumble bee—species that forage over smaller areas than the honeybee. (Note, honeybees are not native to North America.) In broad terms, these findings support the capacity of semi-natural areas to reduce pesticide risk for wild bees.

Pesticide risk assessment is evolving to capture the ecological complexity of things like species’ different foraging ranges. However, greater understanding is required. This newly published study evidences this at a landscape scale as the ecologists measured pesticide concentrations in different food sources for different bee species in multiple cropping systems. The study was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Pesticides in pollen and nectar may be hazardous for pollinators

Graphical abstract. Credit: Science of The Total Environment (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.162971

In another study from Trinity College, Dublin, researchers found pesticides in flowers not targeted with the chemicals, which could be an additional, underestimated threat to pollinators. “This is the first time that a multi-field survey of pollen and nectar from crops and wild plants has been undertaken in Ireland and is critical to our understanding of pesticide residues in the Irish context,” says Prof. Jane Stout, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity, who co-led the research with Prof. Blánaid White, School of Chemical Sciences, DCU.

The researchers looked for pesticide residues in the nectar and pollen of crop and non-target hedgerow plants. They evaluated a variety of herbicides and fungicides that are commonly used, as well as neonicotinoids that are no longer being used but of which residues may remain for some time. “The research takes place in the context of Ireland reaching the ambitious European Commission target in the Farm to Fork Strategy of reducing the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50%,” says Prof. White.

Doctoral student Elena Zioga, who was jointly supervised by Prof. White and Prof. Stout, collected thousands of flowers from agricultural fields across Ireland, and carried out her chemical analysis work at the DCU Water Institute. Finding traces of certain neonicotinoids, which are known to threaten pollinators, still lingering despite a 2018 ban by the European Commission “is a worry” said Ms. Zioga, who would like to know the extent of their presence in the environment, and at what concentrations. The researchers also found mixtures of pesticides more often than single compound detections, and this means it is important to understand the impact of these mixes on pollinators and other non-target organisms.

“We need to understand how different compounds move through the environment, and the rate at which these compounds degrade, so that we can understand the extent of their persistence,” said Prof. White. “And we need to know what their long-term effects are on pollinators and other organisms” added Prof. Stout. The paper was published in Science of The Total Environment (2023).

Food & Agriculture

Reducing Food Waste

In this post you will find links to articles about two US states that are trying to reduce food waste, an Italian row about a more energy-efficient way to cook pasta, and a new technique for longer food storage.

Left-over chicken prepared by Richard Guenette. Photo by R. Last.

Two states act to reduce food waste

My husband cooks most of the meals at our home and he’s a genius at making left-overs delicious. Two US states are also getting in on the action on reducing food waste. Susan Shain writes in the New York Times How Central Ohio Got People to Eat Their Leftovers. The article includes useful tips such as reducing portion sizes, using left-overs in lunches and home composting to reduce the amount of food waste that goes to landfill. Vermont recently introduced laws to reduce food scraps going to landfill, but research shows that citizens are confused about composting rules, and frustrated with the state’s inability to compost biodegradable containers and tableware. University of Vermont published a study to track the successes and challenges following implementation of the new policy on food waste.

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

In a related story, it also turns out that retailers can gain from reducing food waste. In research published in the Journal of Sustainable Marketing, Jie Zhang and Michel Wedel, marketing professors at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, and Professor Martin H. Bloem from Johns Hopkins University offer marketing solutions to retailers, including incentivizing suppliers to reduce resources and materials used in production and packaging to minimize environmental impacts, and to encourage consumers to make sustainable choices.

Waste can also be reduced in food preparation, but as the following story shows, sometimes changing habits is an uphill battle.

Photo by Katerina Holmes on Pexels.

Italy’s pasta row

Italians are notoriously—and understandably—protective of their cuisine. So, when a Nobel Prize-winning Italian physicist’s advice about how to cook pasta perfectly seemed to upend everything, he raised a lot of hackles. Professor Giorgio Parisi—who won the 2021 physics Nobel for “the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales”—suggested that turning off the heat midway through cooking pasta, then covering with a lid and waiting for the residual heat in the water to finish the job, can help reduce the cost of cooking pasta. Michelin-starred chef Antonello Colonna claimed this method makes the pasta rubbery, and that it could never be served in a high-quality restaurant such as his own. Inspired by the thought of saving some money, students Mia and Ross at Nottingham Trent University took to the kitchen to cook pasta in different ways, helping to pick apart the tangled strands of this question. The prize for the most efficient method of cooking dried pasta is to pre-soak it in cold water before adding it to a pan of simmering water or sauce for one to two minutes. Keeping a lid on the pan is another simple thing you can do. Adding salt, while making minimal difference to the boiling point, does significantly improve the taste.

Homegrown strawberries by R. Last.

Better food storage for salmon and strawberries

A simple two-step process that could be scaled for use in the home kitchen has the potential to dramatically cut food waste, KAUST researchers have shown. Asrar Damdam, a Ph.D. student working in Khaled Salama’s lab, has explored the benefits of combining UV irradiation with vacuum sealing to reduce microbial growth. Food waste is a significant issue globally; nearly one-quarter of meat and one-third of seafood products are lost or wasted annually, often through microbial spoilage that occurs across the food supply chain. Asrar Damdam, a Ph.D. student working in Khaled Salama’s lab, has explored the benefits of combining UV irradiation with vacuum sealing to reduce microbial growth.

The meat and fish samples were sterilized using a constant UV-C irradiation dose and stored in low pressure conditions. The team conducted a daily pH and microbiological analysis. For the animal products, detailed microbial analysis revealed that the combined procedure extended shelf life by 67% more than a single treatment. Strawberries and quartered tomatoes were subjected to a similar two-step process of radiation and vacuum sealing. For quartered tomatoes, the results were only slightly less than the animal samples at 54.4%, and for strawberries a highly impressive 124.4% extension was achieved. The work is published in the Journal of Food Science and Foods.