The shift to neonicotinoid-free kernels will take several years.
Amid growing public pressure, popcorn giant Pop Weaver announced it will phase out the use of toxic bee-killing seed coatings applied to corn seeds grown for its popcorn supply.
The chemicals of concern are called neonicotinoids, systemic insecticides blamed for massive bee, bat, and songbird deaths. This type of chemical is actually taken up inside of the plant. (Yes, some winds up in the kernel you pop and eat!) About 95 percent of the rest lingers in the environment.
The announcement comes just a week into the Center for Food Safety's campaign to pressure Pop Weaver to ditch the toxic chemical. In an announcement yesterday on its website and Facebook page, Pop Weaver committed to “removing 50 percent of its neonicotinoids usage in 2016, 75 percent in 2017, with a long-term commitment of further reducing usage by working with agricultural universities and those companies supplying neonicotinoids to the seed industry.” This is the first U.S. food company to commit to phasing out uses of neonicotinoid seed coatings. CFS's campaign also targeted Pop Secret, which sources much of its popcorn from Pop Weaver, and is working to secure a similar commitment from the company.
“We are pleased to see a leader in the popcorn industry make this commitment to protecting bees and the environment,” says Larissa Walker, pollinator program director at Center for Food Safety. “With a large share of the market, Pop Weaver has the ability to not only become leaders in pollinator protection but to also influence their competitors in the popcorn seed market to do the same. This is a very important market shift.”
For being such a tiny kernel, nonorganic popcorn can sure pack a harmful punch. There are about 40 insecticides registered for use on popcorn, among them three are known to be highly toxic to bees: clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid.
A moratorium banning the most lethal neonicotinoids is in effect in the European Union, but here in the U.S., it's a different story. Aside from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banning neonicotinoid use on all wildlife refuges by January 2016, they are still used on millions of U.S. acres annually. In fact, CFS says between 70 to 100 percent of nonorganic corn is treated with neonicotinoid chemicals.
Bee-killing chemicals are commonly used to grow other popular nonorganic foods, too. Residues are often detected in nonorganic sweet and hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, pears, summer squash, cucumbers, strawberries, grapes, spinach, and kale.
To avoid this issue altogether, choose organic. And when making popcorn, be wary of microwave popcorn. The bags often contain toxic grease-repelling nonstick chemicals. One exemption is Quinn Popcorn. Of course, you can always whip up popcorn the old-fashioned way on the stovetop, too.