(Beyond Pesticides, July 10, 2013) Several beekeeping organizations have filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) to reverse a recent decision to register a new pesticide, sulfoxaflor, which is highly toxic to bees. The beekeepers are not satisfied that their submitted concerns were properly addressed by EPA before registration was granted. Sulfoxaflor is a sub-class of the neonicotinoid pesticides that have been linked to global bee declines. The suit is filed as the beekeeping industry across the country struggles for survival, and faces the costly effects of pesticides upon their businesses.
The National Pollinator Defense Fund, American Honey Producers Association, National Honey Bee Advisory Board, the American Beekeeping Federation, and beekeepers Bret Adee, Jeff Anderson and Thomas R. Smith submitted the case in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, requesting changes in the sulfoxaflor product label, the Biological Economic Assessment Division (BEAD) assessment of the value of pollinators and their established habits, and the EPA’s Risk Assessment Process. The requested changes would acknowledge pollinator’s critical role in the U.S. food supply, and ensure that decisions regarding new pesticides comply with applicable laws.
Another legal challenge submitted in March 2013 by beekeepers, environmental and consumer groups, including Beyond Pesticides, in Federal District Court challenges the agency’s failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides. This lawsuit seeks suspension of the registrations of neonicotinoid insecticides- clothianidin and thiamethoxam– which have repeatedly been identified as highly toxic to honey bees, clear causes of major bee kills and significant contributors to the devastating ongoing mortality of bees. The suit challenges EPA’s oversight of these pesticides, as well as the agency’s registration process and labeling deficiencies.
In May 2013, EPA approved the full registration of sulfoxaflor, which the agency classifies as highly toxic to honey bees, despite warnings and concerns raised by beekeepers and environmental groups that sulfoxaflor will further endanger bees and beekeeping. Several comments were submitted to EPA by concerned beekeepers and environmental advocacy groups, including Beyond Pesticides, stating that approval of a pesticide highly toxic to bees would only exacerbate the problems faced by an already tenuous honey bee industry and further decimate bee populations. However, EPA outrightly dismissed these concerns and instead points to a need for sulfoxaflor by industry and agriculture groups to control insects no longer being controlled by increasingly ineffective or resistant pesticide technologies.
EPA also says that none of the objections to sulfoxaflor registrations point to any data “to support the opinion that registration of sulfoxaflor will pose a grave risks to bees,” even though the agency itself acknowledges that sulfoxaflor is highly toxic to bees. The agency states that even though sulfoxaflor is highly toxic to bees it does not demonstrate substantial residual toxicity to exposed bees, nor are “catastrophic effects” on bees expected from its use. While sulfoxaflor exhibits behavioral and navigational abnormalities in honey bees, EPA downplayed these effects as “short-lived.”
Beekeepers have experienced honey bee losses of over 40 percent over the 2012/2013 winter period, with some beekeepers reporting losses of over 70 percent, far exceeding the normal rate of 10-15 percent. Some have even been driven out of business. Current estimates of the number of surviving hives in the U.S. show that these colonies may not be able to meet the pollination demands of agricultural crops. Based on the approved registration, pollinators, especially honey bees, may potentially be exposed numerous times by sulfoxaflor applications as honey bees are moved across the country to pollinate crops, produce the nation’s supply of honey, and recuperate from the rigors of pollination. Since the early 20th century, ”˜migratory’ beekeepers have provided a critical service to U.S. agriculture by moving their hives seasonally to pollinate a wide variety of crops. Commercial beekeeping adds between $20 to $30 billion dollars in economic value to agriculture each year.
The groups are being represented by the public interest law organization Earthjustice. The appeal process through the courts is the only mechanism open to challenge EPA’s decision; it is commonly used by commodity groups to rectify inadequate pesticide labeling.
The following are their statements:
Jeff Anderson, beekeeper: “EPA’s approval of Sulfoxaflor with no enforceable label protections for bees will speed our industry’s demise. EPA is charged under FIFRA with protecting non-target beneficial insects, not just honeybees. EPA’s Sulfoxaflor registration press release says, ”˜”¦the final label includes robust terms for protecting pollinators”¦’ This is a bold-faced lie! There is absolutely no mandatory language on the label that protects pollinators. Further, the label’s advisory language leads spray applicators to believe that notifying a beekeeper of a planned application, absolves them of their legal responsibility in FIFRA to not kill pollinators.”
Bret Adee, President of the Board of the National Pollinator Defense Fund: “The EPA is charged with preventing unreasonable risk to our livestock, our livelihoods, and most importantly, the nation’s food supply. This situation requires an immediate correction from the EPA to ensure the survival of commercial pollinators, native pollinators, and the plentiful supply of seed, fruits, vegetables, and nuts that pollinators make possible.”
Randy Verhoek, President of the Board of the American Honey Producers Association: “The bee industry has had to absorb an unreasonable amount of damage in the last decade. Projected losses for our industry this year alone are over $337 million. While not all of the losses are due solely to pesticides, there are strong correlations between pesticide misuse killing bees and impairing colony performance.”
George Hansen, President of the Board of the American Beekeeping Federation: “The honey bee industry is very concerned since the EPA has failed to adequately address our comments about realistic risk to pollinators posed by sulfoxaflor. The EPA continues to use flawed and outdated assessments of long term and sub-lethal damage to honey bees.”
Rick Smith, beekeeper and farmer: “The beekeeping industry has proactively engaged EPA to address concerns for many years. The industry is seriously concerned the comments it submitted during the Sulfoxaflor registration comment period were not adequately addressed before EPA granted full registration. The sun is now rising on a day where pollinators are no longer plentiful. They require protection 365 days a year in order to be abundant at the critical moment their pollination service is required by the plant. Applying pesticides in a manner which does not expose pollinators during the period a pesticide is acutely toxic, and, knowing sub-lethal and delayed effects, are the cornerstones in their protection. EPA’s assessment process has chosen not to use long established and accepted published information concerning pollinator foraging habits in the Environment Hazards Section of the Sulfoxaflor label.”
Given the global phenomenon of bee decline and the recent precautions taken in the European Union regarding bee health with the two-year suspension of neonicotinoid pesticides known to be highly toxic to bees, it is irresponsible that EPA allowed yet another chemical with a high potential to be hazardous to bee health into the environment. It is also counterintuitive to current agency and interagency work to protect pollinators.
Bee Protective: For additional information on what you can do to protect pollinators, visit Beyond Pesticides Bee Protective webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.