As spring approaches, US farmers are gearing up to plant about 180 million acres in corn and soybeans—a combined land mass nearly twice the size of California, mostly in the Midwest. The great majority of the seeds they sow will be coated with neonicotinoid pesticides: synthetic chemicals thought to be harmless to humans but that attack bugs’ central nervous systems—and, as new research shows, hinder birds’ navigation abilities.
The European Union has maintained a moratorium on several neonics since 2013.
Neonics, as they’re known, are the globe’s most widely used class of insecticide, representing a multi-billion-dollar market for their primary makers, the agrichemical giants Bayer and Syngenta. Meanwhile, a growing body of research suggests they harm pollinators like bees, birds, and water-borne insects (a major food source for birds and fish). The European Union has maintained a moratorium on several neonic uses since 2013.
Here’s a collection of the latest research on the ecological effects of these widely used farm chemicals: