(Beyond Pesticides, May 3, 2013) Despite the groundbreaking decision in Europe earlier this week to protect honey bees by suspending the neonicotinoid pesticides shown to be highly toxic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report yesterday which fails to address the overwhelming scientific evidence of neonicotinoid-related bee death and decline. The report presents no long-term, sustainable solutions to address the current bee crisis. Instead, the report recommends further research on the role of pesticides in honey bee health, further highlighting the stymied pace of U.S. regulatory efforts.
The report follows on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health, which was led by federal researchers and managers and Pennsylvania State University in October 2012. Stakeholders at the conference included industry, federal officials, scientists, beekeepers, and activists who discussed several factors pertaining to adverse pollinator heath. Parasites, disease, genetics, poor nutrition, and pesticide exposure were highlighted at the meeting as synergistic factors in the observable nationwide honey bee decline.
The report recommends further research on the impacts of pesticides on bees at the colony level in the field, but does not capture the science connecting pesticides to adverse effects or the need for protective action. Instead, the report merely summarizes stakeholder comments at the meeting and highlights the uncertainties, rather than the bounty of evidence and on-the-ground beekeeper testimony. The report states, “It is clear, based on chemical analysis of bees and bee products, that exposure of bees to a gamut of pesticides is common place, but the level of exposure to any particular pesticide is generally not enough to immediately or acutely kill bees.” However, acute testing for lethality does not include sublethal and chronic effects from prolonged exposure to multiple pesticides that occur in the field and cause demonstrable harm to bees, including immune suppression, navigational disruption, and decreased learning behavior.
Jim Jones, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator, made some important admissions during the conference call announcing the release of the report, particularly that original EPA risk assessments and registration data requirements did not adequately consider sublethal effects to bee health. Recently published studies conclude that the systemic neonicotinoid insecticides, imidacloprid and clothianidin, cause cognitive damage in bees. While the bees are still alive, the lobes of the brain fail to communicate with each other with obvious implications for their survival. EPA’s failure to adequately assess sublethal effects in bees prior to the registration of these pesticides, and others, highlights the regulatory failure that continues to plague the agency.
Some of the other discussion points included in the report are: the importance of the Varroa mite and its resistance to controls; the need for increased genetic diversity in honey bee colonies to improve resistance to mites and diseases; the role of poor nutrition and need for federal and state agencies to promote land management practices that improve and expand natural areas where bees can forage in pesticide-free zones; and the need for timely bee kill reporting, monitoring, and enforcement.
Unlike recent action in Europe, which placed a two-year ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides””imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam”” due to their toxicity to bees, EPA has yet to implement immediate, strong, and protective measures for pollinator health. Instead, EPA is focusing on short-term risk mitigation measures, such as reducing contaminated field dust, which aligns with the pesticide industry’s focus. “EPA is working on advancing new equipment, releasing new formulations, and label standards,” said Mr. Jones, “New planting technology”¦should be widely available next year.” The agency continues to dismiss scientific evidence of the acute and chronic toxicity of neonicotinoids and other pesticides on bees and other pollinators, and instead focuses on technological stopgap measures. Beekeepers and environmentalists have said that EPA has yet to uphold the “unreasonable adverse effect on the environment” standard, which it is required under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
In lieu of immediate, strong, and precautionary measures, the report recommends improving “best management practices,” which do not question either the use of pesticides or recognize the availability and success of organic management practices. The new restrictions across Europe suggest that EPA consider moving beyond writing meeting reports on honey bee health and adopt actual restrictions of pesticides that peer-reviewed science has tied to pollinator decline nationwide.
For the most recent action being taken to protect honey bees, see the Beyond Pesticides BEE Protective website.
Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.