(Beyond Pesticides, October 28, 2015) On the heels of a recent federal court decision that rejected the U.S. registration of sulfoxaflor, which cited inadequate and flawed review of the science on the chemical’s toxicity to bees, European beekeepers filed complaint that that asks the European Court of Justice to take the same action. The complaint asks the court to cancel sulfoxaflor’s authorization. Sulfoxaflor is a neonicotinoid-like chemical that, like neonicotinoids, is highly toxic to bees. Three of the most widely used neonicotinoids are currently under a two-year European-wide moratorium which began December 2013, due to concerns about risks to bee populations.
European beekeepers, Bee Life European Beekeeping Coordination, the Italian National Beekeeping Union (UNAAPI), and PAN Europe, filed the complaint which cites a published negative opinion on Dow AgroScience’s sulfoxaflor by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). According to EFSA, the pesticide is categorized as ”˜highly toxic to bees’ and it identified crucial toxicity data gaps, which according to the beekeepers, makes a proper risk assessment for bees impossible. Despite these facts, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG Sante) and the EU member states authorized sulfoxaflor in July 2015, completely bypassing the pesticide regulation, the complaint notes.
In contrast, back in 2013, a similar analysis of three neonicotinoid insecticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) prepared by EFSA —which found high risk to bees, many data gaps to carry out a proper risk assessment— led to an EU-wide ban on bee-attractive crops.
Martin Dermine, PAN Europe’s honey bee project coordinator explains, “In 2013, DG Sante made a positive step towards a better protection of bees and the environment in general. This U-turn is not acceptable. We put it in parallel with other negative developments in the pesticide area since the Commission was established”.
On September 10, 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unequivocally rejected the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) unconditional registration of sulfoxaflor. The Court concluded that EPA violated federal law and its own regulations when it approved sulfoxaflor without reliable studies regarding the impact that the insecticide would have on honey bee colonies. The Court vacated EPA’s unconditional registration of the chemical, meaning that sulfoxaflor may no longer be used in the U.S. In 2013, in response to EPA’s initial registration of sulfoxaflor, beekeepers filed suit against EPA, citing that the insecticide further endangers bees and beekeeping, noting that their concerns were not properly addressed by EPA before registration was granted. The case: Pollinator Stewardship Council, American Honey Producers Association, National Honey Bee Advisory Board, American Beekeeping Federation, Thomas Smith, Bret Adee, Jeff Anderson v. U.S. EPA (9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals,”¯No. 13-7234).
According to the decision, EPA skirted its own regulations when it ignored risk concerns, even with the reduced maximum application rate, which EPA has done before, despite prior reprimands from the Court. The panel vacated the EPA’s unconditional registration because, given the precariousness of bee populations, allowing EPA’s continued registration of sulfoxaflor risked increased environmental harm.
Sulfoxaflor is a relatively new active ingredient, registered in 2013, whose mode of action is similar to that of neonicotinoid pesticides —it acts on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) in insects. Even though it has not been classified as a neonicotinoid, it elicits similar neurological responses in honey bees, with many believing that sulfoxaflor is the new generation of neonicotinoid. Neonicotinoids, including sulfoxaflor, are “systemic” insecticides, which means that they are applied to plants, they are absorbed and distributed throughout the plant, including pollen, and nectar. Sulfoxaflor is registered in the U.S. for use on vegetables, fruits, barley, canola, ornamentals, soybeans, wheat and others. Several comments were submitted by concerned beekeepers and environmental advocacy groups, like Beyond Pesticides, that stated 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 dismissed these concerns and instead pointed to a need for sulfoxaflor by industry and agriculture groups to control insects no longer being controlled by increasingly ineffective pesticide technologies.
Bees in the U.S. and Europe have seen unprecedented losses over the last decade- losses attributed to widespread pesticide use, especially neonicotinoids which gained popularity during the same time. In the U.S., farm, beekeeper, and environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, have urged EPA to follow the European Union’s lead and suspend the huge numbers of other bee-harming pesticides already on the market. Thus far, EPA has amended neonicotinoid product labels to make clearer the hazards posed to bees, placed a moratorium on new neonicotinoid products, and proposed to place a temporary prohibition on the foliar application of pesticides acutely toxic to bees. The plight of bees was recognized by the Obama Administration, which has since directed federal agencies to find solutions to reverse and restore healthy pollinator populations. The federal report, released May 2015, outlines several measures including public education and habitat creation, but little to nothing on bee-toxic pesticides. States are also encouraged to develop pollinator plans to help mitigate risks to bees, but many including beekeepers believe these do not go far enough.
In light of the shortcomings of federal action”¯to protect these beneficial organisms, pollinators need pesticide-free habitat throughout communities. Take action by calling on EPA to suspend neonicotinoids now. You can also declare your garden, yard, park or other space as pesticide-free and pollinator friendly. It does not matter how large or small your pledge is, as long as you contribute to the creation of safe pollinator habitat.”¯Sign the pledge today! Need ideas on creating the perfect pollinator habitat? The”¯Bee Protective Habitat Guide”¯can tell you which native plants are right for your region. For more information on what you can do, visit our BEE Protective page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: PAN Europe Press Release
Photo Source: Susan Q, TN