Neonicotinoids in Japan

Following the environmental debacle of DDT, chemists thought themselves clever by synthesizing variants of molecules that plants themselves produce to ward off their pests. An obvious candidate was nicotine. Neonicotinoids illustrate how clever can kill.

Japanese farmers started using neonicotinoids on their rice paddies in 1992. Neonic use increased exponentially since then. Now, even rivers flowing through cities carry doses of neonicotinoids that are lethal to aquatic invertebrates. (The mouthful term “neonicotinoid” is commonly shortened to “neonic.”)

“Aquatic systems are threatened by the high toxicity and persistence of neonicotinoid insecticides. These effects cascade to higher trophic levels by altering food web structure and dynamics, affecting higher-level consumers.” ~ Japanese biologist Masumi Yamamuro et al

Neonics have taken an outsized toll on fish and eel populations throughout Japan. Japanese researchers found that catches of smelt in Japan fell 90% in the decade after neonics were introduced. Eel harvests dropped 74% over the same period. “A fishery that was sustainable for decades collapsed within a year after farmers began using neonicotinoids,” exclaims astonished American marine biologist Olaf Jensen.

Along with Japan, the US, Canada, China, and most other countries continue to recklessly employ neonics. Neonicotinoids is in over 75% of the honey eaten by people worldwide.

Only this year did the EU ban neonics on open fields. Their use in greenhouses is still allowed.


Ishi Nobu, Spokes 6: The Fruits of Civilization, BookBaby (2019).

Masumi Yamamuro et al, “Neonicotinoids disrupt aquatic food webs and decrease fishery yields,” Science (1 November 2019).

Damian Carrington, “Fishery collapse ‘confirms Silent Spring pesticide prophecy’,” The Guardian (31 October 2019).

Olaf P. Jensen, “Pesticide impacts through aquatic food web,” Science (1 November 2019).

E. A. D. Mitchell et al, “A worldwide survey of neonicotinoids in honey,” Science (6 October 2017).