Although a slight improvement over Naled, whatever you've heard about Bti toxin, it's not the gentler, kinder way to address the so-called Zika issue.
Over the summer, we the people of Puerto Rico reacted with horror and extreme anger at the U.S. Government and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s intentions to continue aerial spraying the entire island with a chemical cloud of the pesticide Naled.
Naled (trade names are Bromex, Dibrom, Fly Killer-D, Lucanal, RE 4355) is an organophosphate that is manufactured by AmVac Chemical Corporation and has been distributed under the name Naled since 1993.
This was their solution to the so-called threat of the Zika virus, which is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and is the latest in the long line of microbial ‘nasties’ the U.S. government has fear-mongered into the international spotlight.
(I interviewed Sadhu Govardhan about the extreme threat posed to our health and the environment. Sadhu is a well-known sustainable agriculture consultant in the Caribbean because of his extensive knowledge of tropical food crops and bamboo. Along with his understanding about ecosystems and soils, his philosophy about agriculture make him an authority on eco-organic farming, and why he is routinely called upon for interviews and consulted about both small- and large-scale farming projects. You can read the interview here, which uses science and reputable sources to prove that Naled is far more dangerous than the mosquito-borne virus it was being used to kill. We also prove that the link between microcephaly and Zika is unproven, tenuous at best and hype.)
On the other hand, far from a benign substance, Naled is a dangerous neurotoxin that is already known to:
- Put the fetuses of pregnant women at grave risk for birth defects
- Kill bees and birds
- Severely compromise the ecosystem
- Pollute our drinking water
- Expose people to dangerous health problems—both short- and long-term
- Have zero impact on the Aedes aegypti mosquitos it was intended to eradicate
Secretly spraying the island since February 2016, the plan to continue its use on Puerto Rico was highly ironic (in a perverse way), given that the Zika scare campaign has centered around its supposed ability to cause birth deformities in fetuses exposed to the virus through maternal infection.
In response to the protests throughout Puerto Rico, the plan to inundate us with Naled was canceled. But the CDC and the U.S. federal government never gave up the search for a pesticide-based solution to the alleged Zika threat, and now they believe they’ve found one.And to be clear, we the people of Puerto Rico aren’t just opposed to Naled or any of its understudies in this twisted drama. We are opposed to all spraying from airplanes. Whatever is sprayed can’t possibly be good, and is very likely to be an ecological holocaust for all.
As a substitute for Naled, they’re turning to another potentially hazardous substance known as Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti for short). Couched in a bill to avoid a partial government shutdown was a measure to allocate more than one billion dollars to launch a humungous aerial spraying initiative, which will spike interior waterways in Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S. with enough Bti toxin to explode the stomachs of hundreds of billions of mosquito larvae.
Delivered from helicopters or airplanes in pellet form, Bti toxin is dropped into marshlands, ponds, lagoons and other bodies of standing water where mosquitos are known to breed. Once it is dissolved the inactive bacteria spores will be consumed by newly-hatched mosquito larvae, where the spores can then reanimate to full and deadly effect.
Is Bti Toxin Safe for Animals and People? The Experts Say ‘Yes,’ but the Science is Not So Sure
The shift from chemical killers to biological weapons in the fight against Zika-carrying mosquitos has official science’s—and the Puerto Rico government’s—seal of approval. Google the question of Bti’s safety and you’ll encounter journal article after journal article promising that Bti toxin is perfectly safe for humans, mammals, birds, fish and all species of insect except mosquitoes and black flies. Read each one and most use identical language to convey this safety.
But these claims are based more on casual assumptions than extensive research. Most officially sanctioned studies have only looked at Bti toxin under controlled laboratory conditions and have not attempted to monitor its long-term movement through the natural environment.
Fortunately there are exceptions to this rule—and the findings of some of these exceptions have been troubling. Most recently, in March 2016, scientists associated with the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research in Argentina announced the results of a study that measured the effects of Bti toxin on tadpoles of a species of frog indigenous to that country.
Another study published in the 1984 Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research (South Africa) concluded there was a significant decline in many non-mosquito populations when Bti was applied to local waters.
In 2010, scientists from the Tour du Valatin research facility in Arlens, France published an article in the Journal of Applied Ecology that discussed the relationship between Bti spraying and variations in bird (house martin) populations in one French national park.
They found that where spraying was heaviest martin populations were lowest, and conversely that non-exposure to Bti toxin was associated with much greater success in breeding. This was not because martins were being poisoned by Bti, but rather because the mosquito populations they depended on for food were being suppressed to alarmingly low levels by pesticide interventions.
This finding was noteworthy but not groundbreaking. In the United States and Canada, several previous studies have linked Bti toxin exposure to declines in population for a variety of insect-consuming bird species, including chickadees, warblers, thrush and grouse. Other studies have found a connection between Bti-created mosquito population crashes and poor outcomes for certain species of fish, including brook trout and fathead minnows.
Bti toxin attacks Coleoptera, Diptera and Lepidoptera taxonomic orders, which includes hundreds of thousands of species, such as butterflies, moths and ladybugs to name only 3 groups of beneficial insects.
To put this in perspective, there are over 150 ladybug species, more than 750 butterfly species and greater than 11,000 moth species in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The families/genera affected by BTi toxin easily consist of thousands of species.
It was discovered that Bti toxin intake at relatively moderate levels had a universally fatal impact on these creatures, which presumably reacted in the same way as other young amphibians will when exposed to Bti toxin in the environment.
Indeed some species of midges are not able to survive contact with Bti, and there is at least one species of moth indigenous to Florida’s swampland that will succumb to Bti exposure (Bti has been used extensively to combat the alleged Zika threat in that state).
Other helpful insect species are undoubtedly being damaged or killed by contact with Bti insecticides, but real world testing that would help pin down Bti's true toxicity is sorely lacking. Like GMOs, the “experts” have already declared it safe, so they believe such testing is unnecessary.
In human beings, Bti toxin can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, possibly of a severe nature. It can also affect the lungs, gastrointestinal tract and organs, if exposure is extensive enough. Bti is relatively unstable in the natural environment, which in some cases may protect people living in areas where Bti has been used. But if massive amounts of it are dumped from helicopters or airplanes over extended periods of time, human beings living in those areas are bound to touch, inhale or ingest fairly prodigious amounts of it, to who knows what detrimental effect.
The evidence confirming a relationship between Bti toxin and ecological destruction/disruption is not extensive. Unfortunately that will not change until more scientists have taken the time to research the question fairly and thoroughly.
Spray First, Investigate Later: Moving Backwards Into Disaster
Despite claims to the contrary, the book is very much open on Bti and its true level of toxicity, for any and all species of animal. Introduced in gigantic quantities into complex ecosystems, there is no telling how far up the food chain its poisonous effects might echo, or how devastating to a variety of important species it might ultimately turn out to be.
The government’s plan to carpet bomb huge swaths of Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S. with this toxic killer is a grand science experiment run amok. The experiment’s impact is unpredictable and uncertain, and by the time definitive answers are available the damage, sadly, will have already been done.
Impact on Organic Farming
As if we could leave aside the potentially harmful effects on our ecosystem and health, those of us who are organic farmers don’t get a say whether our environment is used as a science experiment to eradicate something that isn’t even a health threat.
Those disinterested in working with Mother Earth to control pests that get out of control instead devise new and potentially dangerous methods to do what nature has already proven she can do for herself.
The reason, more often than not that insects are able to get out of control is that solutions are concocted in a lab that seek to correct a problem that was often created by that same lab.
Everyone, except humans, has a natural predator. The ecosystem, left to itself to function properly, has already created the solution to these “problems.” But if the “geniuses” in Big Ag, backed by more “geniuses” in the federal government continue creating something to eliminate these “problems,” something else is going to get out of whack, because they never take into account that their response to create a solution to a problem they created on their own throws things off balance, which in turn creates an even bigger, less manageable problem.
Those of us who know that if we, as the expression goes, “let nature take its course,” we can safely and effectively eliminate the insects that Big Ag and the CDC see as a health threat. We do it all the time on our farms, which is how we know that it can be done on a larger and global scale.
It’s not possible to develop in a lab something that will target that one thing that is the so-called problem without ensuring that only the target is eliminated that if left alone, nature has already developed a solution for.
One small example is that the coquí frog’s purpose isn’t just to make a cute sound to attract females so it can continue reproducing. Coquí frogs eat mosquitos and myriad other insects.
Multiply this times the entire self-governing ecosystem, and there is no need for the “geniuses” behind the Big Ag to exist.
And if that happened, how on earth could they turn a profit?
Lady bug: Sheilapic, www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/
Moth: Karen and Brad Anderson, www.flickr.com/photos/karenandbrademerson/
Butterflies: Artsybee, pixabay.com/en/users/ArtsyBee-462611/
Coquí frog: audreyulloa, www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/