There was an article in the Star Tribune and a shorter one in the Daily Journal about the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finding neonics in the spleens of our native whitetail deer. The spleen acts to clear the blood of parasites, damaged cells and any toxic or foreign substances. This chemical, in does, has resulted in fawns that were less likely to survive, fawns born stunted, with smaller body weights, and shorter jaw bones. Since no one has ever seen a doe smoking a cigarette (how would she hold the darn thing?) she must have gotten the chemical somewhere else. The DNR was quoted as saying that the wide range of where the chemicals were found “was a surprise to us.” They found evidence of the chemical in deer in the deepest and most remote forests.
Neonics are applied to row crops like corn and soybeans. We have all seen deer eating both crops. They are the most commonly used insecticide in the Upper Midwest. Between 80% to 98% of the insecticide are eventually released into the wider environment. They leach into the groundwater, are carried through runoff, and thus into our lakes and streams, lifted into the air and carried all over in dust. Jim Kelly, manager of the environmental surveillance and assessment at the Minnesota Department of Health states that “early indications are that they pose no threat to human health.” Really?
Home gardeners, when they heard of how neonics worked, had a screaming, foot-stomping fit about this insecticide being used by the growers of flowers and vegetables for the home. The insecticide is systemic. That is, it is in every cell of the affected plant. Any bee that lands on a flower and drinks the nectar gets “bee Alzheimers.” It wanders off, not able to remember where the hive is and eventually dies. This chemical will affect, and eventually kill, any insect that eats any part of the plant including pollinators.
Eventually growers got the message that gardeners valued the bugs enough to grow their own plants rather than take a chance that they would get a plant ‘infected’ with neonics. The growers assured us that they no longer use the stuff. We can only hope they are telling the truth. The Europeans are ahead of us. They banned the use of the insecticide several years ago. However, you can still get this stuff in any insecticide that states that it is systemic on the label. The Extension office has a list of the names of chemicals to look for. These articles keep reminding you to read the label, on chemicals, on seed packets, on anything you put in the garden or in your mouth.
The best fertilizers you can put on your garden are compost or manure from animals that are grass fed. Even dusty grass is suspect. Corn-fed animals must have very busy spleens, attempting to clear neonics out of their blood.
Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.