EPA Asks for Public Comment on Petition to Ban Pesticide Deadly to Bees, Senators Urge Expedited Action
(Beyond Pesticides, July 30, 2012) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has opened a 60-day public comment period on the agency’s decision to deny the request by beekeepers to immediately suspend the use of clothianidin, a pesticide that poses harm to pollinators. The legal petition was filed earlier this year by 25 beekeepers and environmental organizations, and cites significant acute and chronic bee kills across the United States linked to neonicotinoid pesticides, particularly clothianidin. On Thursday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, called for an expedited review of pesticides that could be inadvertently decimating honey bee populations. The letter is also signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). EPA is not expected to complete its review until 2018, and any implementation plans could take years beyond that to complete. Given that Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has decreased the U.S. bee population by 30 percent since 2006, Senator Gillibrand is urging a quicker timeframe, asking that it be completed by the end of next year.
“Our agriculture industry is vital to the upstate New York’s economy,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Our farmers need honey bees to pollinate our crops and produce. However, certain pesticides may be unintentionally killing off the honey bee population. By expediting this review, we can help save our honey bee population and grow our agricultural economies.” Honey bees are vital to the health of agricultural industries in New York as one in three bites of food is reliant on honey bee pollination.
In her letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Senator Gillibrand wrote, “Protecting honey bees and other pollinators is vital to American agriculture. In fact, one in three bites of food is reliant on honey bee pollination, and threats to pollinators concern the entire food system and could drive up the cost of food in this country. Highlighting the economic importance of pollinators, a recent study by Cornell University found that insect pollination results in a value of more than $15 billion annually.”
This spring and summer, beekeepers from New York to Ohio and Minnesota are reporting extraordinarily large bee die-offs, due, in part, to exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides. The die-offs are similar to what beekeepers have reported in the past few weeks in Canada (where EPA has admitted there are 120 bee kill reports, a huge number). On average, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that beekeepers have been losing over 30% of their honey bee colonies each year since 2006 —but some are losing many more times that number.
Neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid and thiamethoxam in addition to clothianidin, are highly toxic to a range of insects, including honey bees and other pollinators. They are particularly dangerous because, in addition to being acutely toxic in high doses, they also result in serious sublethal effects when insects are exposed to chronic low doses, as they are through pollen and water droplets laced with the chemical as well as dust that is released into the air when treated seeds that have been coated with the chemicals are planted. Previous research has shown that these effects cause significant problems for the health of individual honey bees as well as the overall health of honey bee colonies, including disruptions in mobility, navigation, feeding behavior, foraging activity, memory and learning, and overall hive activity.
The emergency legal petition to EPA was filed on March 21, 2012 and asked the agency to suspend all registrations for pesticides containing clothianidin. The petition, which is supported by over one million citizen petition signatures worldwide, targets the pesticide for its harmful impacts on honey bees. The legal petition establishes that EPA failed to follow its own regulations when it granted a conditional, or temporary, registration to clothianidin in 2003 without a required field study establishing that the pesticide would have no “unreasonable adverse effects” on pollinators. The granting of the conditional registration was contingent upon the subsequent submission of an acceptable field study, but this requirement has not been met. EPA continues to allow the use of clothianidin nine years after acknowledging that it had an insufficient legal basis for initially allowing its use. Additionally, the product labels on pesticides containing clothianidin are inadequate to prevent excessive damage to non-target organisms, which is a second violation of the requirements for using a pesticide and further warrants removing all such mislabeled pesticides from use.
TAKE ACTION: Tell EPA to suspend clothianidin. Submit your comments, identified by Docket ID number EPA-HQ-OPP-2012-0334-0015 at www.regulations.gov, or by clicking on this link. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments (please note that only the fields with asterisks are required).
For more information on how pesticides affect pollinators and what you can do to help, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pollinator Program page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.