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NTNU Hosts Global Symposium Expect to Turn Environmental Crisis into a Change
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NTNU Hosts Global Symposium Expect to Turn Environmental Crisis into a Change

- the Impact of Systematic Pesticides on Biodiversity, Ecological Environment and How to Handle It

The 2018 International Symposium of TFSP on Impact of and Alternatives to Systematic Pesticides, held by by National Taiwan Normal University on June 29th at main campus of NTNU, is for calling attention to the impact of systemic pesticides on Taiwan's biodiversity and ecological environment with objective scientific viewpoints and alternative solutions. Vice President Chien-Jen Chen, specialized in environmental public health, and National Policy Advisor Fu-Mei Chang, who has contribution of black bears conservation, were invited as guests at the opening ceremony. Experts and scholars of environmental toxicants and public health from around the world came to share the impact of systematic pesticides on biodiversity and the ecological environment. In this seminar, we have experts from Switzerland, Italy, France, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and mainland China. It is hoped that through this conference, Taiwan’s contribution to international academic research will increase and Taiwan’s academic research on the impact of systemic pesticides on biodiversity and the ecological environment can be implemented.

Vice President Chen declares the goal of halving the use of pesticides by 2027 at the opening ceremony

At the opening ceremony, Vice President Chen declares our goal of halving the use of pesticides by 2027 to systematic pesticide project groups around the world. President of NTNU, Cheng-Chih Wu, who makes suggestions and appeals, thinks that higher education has the responsibility to nurturing “global citizens”, to reshape the development of the human society and save human civilization from survival to existence. National Policy Advisor Fu-Mei Chang, who has always been concerned about Taiwan’s ecological conservation, asks everyone to love the environment in Taiwan, the wildlife and people that live on this land.

In order to show Taiwan’s concern about the impact of systemic pesticide on Taiwan’s biodiversity and ecological environment, the organizer invited Vice President Chen and the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides Chairman Dr. Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, National Policy Advisor Fu-Mei Chang and President Cheng Chih Wu to jointly publish the 2018TSS- IASP environmental protection declaration. The text of the declaration is as follows: This declaration is aimed at reducing the use of pesticides and improving food safety by working more closely with the concern on the impact of systemic insecticides and alternatives with the establishment of a new level of cooperation between the society and the people, for a new, fair global partnership. It is based on ecological principles and socio-economic system analysis as a basis for the interests of multidisciplinary fields, we will pay attention to systematic pesticides for the impact on ecosystem, food safety, the environment and human health.

Chairman Prof. Chung-Hsin Wu founds that systematic pesticide destroys the natural navigation system in brains of bats

The 2018 International Symposium of TFSP on Impact of and Alternatives to Systematic Pesticides is initiated by Prof. Chung-Hsin Wu from the Department of Life Science of NTNU and Prof. En-Cheng Yang from the Department of Entomology of NTU. Thanks to Chairman of TFSP, Dr. Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond’s support, the symposium was held successfully. Prof. Wu is an internationally known bat researcher. Past studies have found that large amount of the systemic insecticide imidacloprid used in farms can cause excessive systemic insecticides accumulation in insects who lives in that area. Imidacloprid is hard to be decomposed in the environment and its half-life can be up to 228 days. When an insect eat crops containing imidacloprid, the pesticide will stay in the body for a long time.

According to statistics, each insectivorous bat can eat hundreds or even thousands of insects in a single night. Although bats is dominant in controlling the number of insects, when bats eat thousands of insects, the imidacloprid in insects is accumulating in the body of bats. When the amount of imidacloprid adds up to a certain amount, it damages the brain neurons of bats, especially the inner GPS system. To be precise, the hippocampus that assist in flight positioning and grid cells in the entorhinal cortex that are responsible for bat flight navigation.

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine winner found that the human brain has a built-in positioning navigation system. The cells in the hippocampus can assist in positioning. The mesh cells in the entorhinal cortex are navigation systems. These neurons allow us to know where we are and how to go to our destination. Something went wrong in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex in the brains of Alzheimer's sufferer at the early stage of the disease, and therefore they would have problem recognizing their familiar environment and get lost. Prof. Chung-Hsin Wu believes that when a large amount of imidacloprid is accumulated in bats’ body, the built-in positioning and navigation system of bats will be destroyed. Eventually, bats will not be able to locate and hunt insects with echolocation, which will cause to hunger, deaths and gradual disappearance of bat groups in Taiwan.

Co-chairman Prof. En-Cheng Yang of the Department of Entomology, NTU discovers that systematic pesticide leads to the mystery of disappearing bees

Prof. En-Cheng Yang of the Department of Entomology, NTU is a bee researcher who revealed the mystery of bee disappearance. For the first time, En-Cheng Yang and the research team confirmed the hypothesis that confuses scientists in the world for over 20 years. His research shows that pesticide imidacloprid, widely used in Taiwan's farm, is the culprit for the disappearance of bee groups. Imidacloprid is a neonicotinoid pesticide and is the most popular pesticide in Taiwan. It is usually applied to the seeds of corn, sunflower and rapeseed, and En-Cheng Yang’s research team discovers that the pesticides make bees dumb!

When the honeybee collects nectar, it brings back imidacloprid residue on the pollen to the hive. The larvae in the hive eat the pollen containing imidacloprid, which affects the nervous system. The ability of learning and memorizing of bees is severely affected. When the larvae become worker bee and go out to collect nectar, they lose direction and cannot find their way home, which resulted in empty beehives and colony collapse. Many scientific studies have clearly pointed out that neonicotinoid pesticide cause serious potential harm to bees and other pollinating insects. Take honeybees as an example, the amount of pesticide in the field will affect bee’s navigation, learning ability, food collection, life span, resistance to illness and fertility. Take bumblebee, for example, the pesticide has caused an irreversible effect on the hive population, which will make the group to grow slower and less queen bees. The control group is also contaminated with nicotine-like agents. Therefore, it’s more difficult to conduct field experiment on bees that fly freely in the field. It proves that neonicotinoid pesticide commonly exists in the environment.

TFSP use scientific methods to explore the impact of systematic pesticides on the environment and ways to respond

Dr. Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, Chairman of TFSP, who was worried about the impact of systemic insecticides on biodiversity and ecological environment, gathered experts of environmental toxicology and public health and set up the systemic pesticide project team TFSP. In 2012, at the World Congress for International Union for Conservation of Nature held in Jeju Island, South Korea, they issued the IUCN Resolution WCC-2012-Res-137, confirming the purpose of TFSP. It is a combination of the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) and Commission on Ecosystem Management (IUCN CEM) that offers comprehensive scientific review of the impact of pesticides on global biodiversity and a complete and objective scientific perspective. TFSP will make necessary recommendations for risk management process based on research results as well as government's risk assessment that should be considered for the approval of pesticide use.

Environmental impact of systematic pesticides

Unlike other pesticides which remain on the surface of treated foliage, systemic pesticides are taken up by the plant and transported to all the tissues (leaves, flowers, roots and stems, as well as pollen and nectar).The most common are Neonicotinoids and Fipronil, which are a class of neuro-active, nicotine-based systemic insecticide. These were developed in 1991 and brought into commercial use in the mid-1990s. Products containing neonics can be applied at the root or sprayed onto crop foliage. The insecticide toxin remains active in the soil or plant for many months or years, protecting the crop season-long. Neonics act on the information processing abilities of invertebrates, affecting specific neural pathways that are different from vertebrates. This makes them popular as broad-spectrum insecticides, as they are considered less directly toxic to vertebrate species including humans. These systemic insecticides have become the most widely used group of insecticides globally, with a market share now estimated at around 40% of the world market. Common compounds include acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid, thiamethoxam and fipronil. Neonicotinoids are still toxic even at very low doses. They have a high persistence in soil and water, remaining in situ for months on average, and this results in sustained and chronic exposure of non-target organisms, such as invertebrates. Because they are relatively water-soluble, they run off into aquatic habitats easily. Growing concern about their connection to bee colony collapse disorder has led to restrictions on their use in EU Countries. Concern about their impact on other non-target species including birds, has been growing for the last five years.

Neonics persist for months and in some cases years and environmental concentrations can build up. This effectively increases their toxicity by increasing the duration of exposure of non-target species. The metabolities of neonics (the compounds which they break down into) are often as or more toxic that the active ingredients.

The classic measurements used to assess the toxicity of a pesticide (short-term lab toxicity results) are not effective for systemic pesticides and conceal their true impact. They typically only measure direct acute effects rather than chronic effects via multiple routes of exposure. The effects of exposure to neonics range from instant and lethal to chronic. Even long term exposure at low levels can be harmful. They are nerve poisons and the chronic damage caused can include: impaired sense of smell or memory; reduced fecundity; altered feeding behavior and reduced food intake including reduced foraging in bees; altered tunneling behavior in earthworms; difficulty in flight and increased susceptibility to disease.

Health crisis hidden in systemic pesticide management

The UN food and environment experts clearly pointed out that it’s a myth that“with rapid growing population, it is necessary to use pesticides to increase yields”. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the real reason of hunger is poverty and unfair distribution. Increasing the amount of pesticide isn’t going to be helpful. Today's food production is enough for 9 billion people, and food production continues to increase. The United Nations strongly criticizes multinational cooperates that produce pesticides, for their negativism on pesticide harm, unethical marketing practices and lobbying the government to stop restrictions on pesticides. The UN report points out that the insecticides cause great harm to the environment, human health and society. Approximately 200,000 people die every year from acute poisoning. Studies confirmed that chronic exposure to insecticides may cause cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, endocrine disorders, development disorders and infertility.

UN toxicologists believe that although scientific research confirms the harm of pesticides, it is not easy for people to know the relationship between pesticides, human diseases and environmental damage. Pesticide companies and agro-industries have completely denied the dangers of pesticides, coupled with powerful and unethical marketing strategies, making it difficult to spread the correct knowledge. The UN report also emphasizes that “the world should transform into safe and healthy food and agricultural production.” It proposes to use global treaties to control pesticides and to adapt sustainable farming such as naturally pest control and crop rotation while encouraging organic food.

Taiwan tops at the amount of pesticide used per hectare

The systematic pesticide fipronil eggs contamination arouses our awareness of control the use of pesticide. In 2013, a well-known vegetable research institute in India did research on pesticide use per hectare in different countries. It turns out that Taiwan’s pesticide use per hectare tops the list, at 17 kg, 6 kg more than Japan that comes at second place. South Korea, ranked the third, only use 6.6 kg per hectare and the US’s is 2.25 kg. In average, the amount of pesticide used in the world is only 0.5 kg per hectare. Therefore, the amount of pesticides used in Taiwan is unbelievably high. As technology advanced, many farmers in central or southern Taiwan use drones to spray pesticides in a large scale, which is time and labor efficient. According to scholars, proper use of pesticides can indeed guarantee crop yields, but once it exceeds a certain amount, it will inevitably affect the overall ecology. The pesticide policy directly affects food safety of the public. It depends on how the government will solve the vicious circle from the source.

Taiwan’s agricultural department officially declared to the international community that by 2027, the use of pesticides in Taiwan should be halved

In the past, the use of pesticide in France was to increase grape yield. However, the harmful effects of pesticides on human health and environment gradually came into focus. NGOs constantly called for government's attention and it worked. French government started to search for the alternative for pesticides. The National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) found that less pesticide doesn't lead to less yield. Nevertheless, they have faced huge difficulties when promoting the reduction of pesticide due to the manipulative roles of pesticide manufacturer companies played in agricultural production. The INRA and Ministry for the Environment worked together and reviewed more than 2,000 publications before they launched a report in 2005 on the use of pesticide, its impact and reduction. This could be regarded as a turning point for public agriculture scientists. The French government has enacted the State National Action Plans and set up working groups on the sustainable use of pesticides. One of them is to promote organic agriculture and another is for the reduction of pesticide. Organic agriculture means no pesticide is allowed whereas pesticide reduction group drafted the Ecophyto 2018, which is a goal of reducing the use of pesticides by half by 2018. After the French government set the goals of reducing the use of pesticide by half by 2025 and goals like more than 200,000 farmers should switch to ecological farming, the agricultural department in Taiwan has made announcements officially to the international society that Taiwan will take action in promoting the reduction of pesticide use. The goal is to reduce the use of pesticide in Taiwan by half by 2027.

Conclusion

The 2018 Taiwan International Symposium on Impact and Alternatives of Systemic Pesticides provides academic insights and suggestions on the impact of systemic insecticides on biodiversity and the ecological environment. Experts from all walks of life can brainstorm for a more specific development path for more alternatives that leads to policies for a win-win situation of the environment and economy of Taiwan. As Vice President Chen said, the policy of gradually reducing the amount of pesticides has begun in Taiwan. The government and NGOs shall seize the opportunity with firm resolution to be a role model in coping with environmental issue with the brand new role Taiwan plays internationally.

National Taiwan Normal University is a comprehensive university with long lasting history, high academic reputation and huge social impact. To declare our resolution to a greener university, NTNU have become a signatory to the Talloires Declaration in May 2009 through the “National Taiwan Normal University Certificate of Commitment toward a Green University.” The common purpose of Green University in the international community is to take the “sustainable development” of human society as the core goal of higher education development and integrate the corresponding practices into the administration, development plans, teaching and research, environment maintenance and student life. In response to the international trend of promoting green universities, NTNU hosts the 2018 International Symposium of TFSP on Impact of and Alternatives to Systematic Pesticides.

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