In bid to reverse bee population decline, Environmental Protection Agency cancels registration of a dozen neonicotinoid pesticides

Popular seed coating pesticide blamed for bee population decline meets the same fate in U.S. as in the EU and other overseas markets

In honor of Anton Janša, a pioneer of modern beekeeping practices born in modern-day Slovenia in 1734, this month the United Nations declared his May 20th birthday World Bee Day. The date was also chosen because May marks the high point of bee activity in the Northern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, since an alarming bee die off was first documented in 2006, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has swept the world, drastically reducing the populations of the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 species of bees, including the western honey bee, bumblebees, and stingless bees.

Entomologists and other scientists blame the slow motion disaster on pesticides, climate change, mites, and habitat destruction. Similar die-offs have been observed in other insects and its estimated that roughly 40% of the almost 1,000,000 insect species identified are now in decline. In response, and following years of litigation, the EPA has canceled registration (effectively banned any use within the U.S.) a total of 12 pesticides which use neonicotinoid, a chemical related to nicotine which attacks the nervous system of insects.

Developed in the 1980s and 1990s by Shell and Bayer and primarily used by farmers as seed coatings on commercial crops (corn, cotton, soybeans), the market for neonicotinoids grew rapidly, eventually accounted for 80% of all seed treatment sales by 2008. However, due to growing environmental concerns, neonics have faced use restrictions before. In 2013, the European Union placed usage limits on pesticides containing neonicotinoids. Then, in 2018, the EU banned any outdoor use of the three primary neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam). Greenhouse use is still permitted. Effective May 20th, the EPA deregistered neonicotinoid-based products produced by Bayer, Syngenta, and Valent.

Farmers will have continued access to neonicotinoid products which contain thiamethoxam, a variant claimed to be less toxic. However, environmental groups are pushing for deregistration of the entire class of neonics which will be up for re-registration no later than 2022.

North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park growing quickly into the nation’s AgTech Hub

Over 300 ag technology firms currently call RTP home and a potential USDA presence would accelerate the region’s dominance  

Research Triangle Park and North Carolina, the state it calls home, are returning to their roots – literally. The non-profit technology innovation center, referred to as a “triangle” due to the three universities (NC State University, Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) which jointly founded the non-profit park in 1959, was originally established to help the state diversify from its traditional industries of agriculture, textiles, and furniture.

Now almost 60 years later, the nation’s largest such research zone is positioning itself as the premier AgTech hub, a title yet to be claimed by any specific economic region. In general, AgTech is defined to include companies active in biotechnology related to agriculture, developers of fertilizer and pesticides, and technologies relevant to farming and food production.

North Carolina has had a rich agriculture history, Dating back to when it was one of the English Thirteen Colonies. Beginning with subsistence farming, the state grew to be a major exporter of cotton and tobacco. Ag is still a key component of North Carolina’s economy, with 48,000 farms producing 80 different cash crops, and contributing $87 billion to the economy (total gross state product for 2016 was $521 billion).

According to data compiled by the RTRP, the Research Triangle Region already employs 74% of the state’s AgTech workers, with a total of 302 such companies accounting for 7,140 employees. Collectively they’re estimated to be contributing $1.2 billion to the Gross Regional Product (GRP) of the state. 

At the 23rd annual State of the Region conference hosted by the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP), an economic development consortium on May 23, the buzz was about the growing importance of AgTech to the research park’s future. In a presentation to an audience of over 1,000 at the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center, Dr. Adrian Percy, chief technology officer of Finistere Ventures and currently serving as an independent director for several AgTech startups, suggested RTP is well positioned to lay claim as the “true AgTech hub”.

Among the factors already in place Dr. Percy cited are the existing presence of major agribusiness heavyweights (Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta, BASF Agriculture Solutions), a large, highly qualified workforce, and a strong focus on agriculture sciences at the area’s universities, including NC State’s Plant Science Initiative.  This region is also home to the AgTech startup AgBiome.

Another enormous boost which may come into play is the potential relocation of two U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies to Research Triangle Park. The move, which is slated to occur before the end of this year, would bring the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to the area, contributing approximately 700 jobs and a significant amount of federal ag research funding to the area’s economy. Research Triangle Park has been shortlisted along with Indiana and Kansas/Missouri.

Scotland-based Aqualution Systems unveils new approach in biocide chemistry

Aqualution biocides promise to be an industry game changer by not having to rely on the use of harmful chemicals

Winning the war against antibiotic-resistant viruses and bacteria requires innovation in the lab and a careful eye to not introduce harmful toxins into the environment. A firm founded by pharmaceutical scientists in central Scotland say they’ve achieved both aims with Aqualution, an electro-dialysis process which creates an environmentally safe and highly stabilized hypochlorous acid (HOCI). Not only is it non-toxic to humans, animals, and plant life, its claimed to be 300 times more effective at killing microorganisms than bleach.

The key to the breakthrough is technology Aqualution scientists developed for using electrolysis in conjunction with an ion exchange process. When applied to softened water and salt, this approach replicates the way the body’s immune system uses white blood cells to release NADPH oxidase, an enzyme which attacks infections and bacteria. As this enzyme decays in the human body, it reacts with sodium chloride, producing HOCI which destroys invasive organisms.

Mimicking the immune system of mammals, the solution produced by the Aqualution process converts common food-grade salt into HOCI. The firm’s patented Aqualution electrochemical activation (ECA) technology also results in a fully stabilized solution over a wide pH range, which the company says make it suitable for a myriad of commercial applications. Each of the firm’s current lineup of products use 80% less chemicals and water and 85% less energy that currently available alternatives. Equally important, the electrochemical activation (ECA) technology results in a fully stabilized solution over a wide pH range which provides it with broad commercial applications.

Company officials say laboratory tests show high efficacy in killing viruses, bacteria and microorganisms, including influenza, Norovirus, Escherichia coli, methicillin-resistant  Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and Clostridium difficile. With approval by the European Union for use as biocides in hand, the firm’s products are already in use in hospitals, a fruit processing plant in Nairobi, a Yorkshire dairy and a poultry farm.

For more information about Aqualution Systems, visit their website: www.aqualution.co.uk