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Daily News Blog

14
Jan

Bayer Concurs with EPA Findings on Certain Neonicotinoid Hazards to Honey Bees

(Beyond Pesticides, January 14, 2016) Bayer CropScience, revising its stance,  has decided to concur with the  Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) preliminary risk assessment of neonicotinoids and acknowledge the finding of harm to honey bees in certain crops. A spokesman for Bayer CropScience said the neonic-selling giant has reviewed the assessment and found it to be “quite good and scientifically sound,” according to a news report.  The Guardian  is reporting that Bayer will be proposing new protections for pollinators, however the company has not yet announced what the new protections will be. This is a stark turnaround from  Bayer’s statement last week, which said EPA’s assessment “appears to overestimate the potential for harmful exposures in certain crops, such as citrus and cotton, while ignoring the important benefits these products provide and management practices to protect bees.”

Last week, EPA released its preliminary honey bee risk assessment for one of the most widely used neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, which is  linked to severely declining honey bee populations. The assessment found  harmful residues of the insecticide  in crops where the pollinators forage  and confirmed bees’ widespread and sustained exposure to the highly toxic and persistent chemical through poisoned pollen and nectar. Imidacloprid, like the other chemicals in its class, is not only highly toxic to bees, but a growing number of studies find that even at low levels neonicotinoids impair foraging ability, navigation, learning behavior, and suppress the immune system, making bees more susceptible to pathogens and disease.  Three other neonicotinoid risk assessments are expected this year, including clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran.

EPA’s assessment ignores certain risks posed to wild bees and other routes of widespread exposure, such as hedgerows, soil, and water. EPA found that in agriculture crop fields and adjacent fields where imidacloprid is sprayed pose a risk to both bumblebees and honey bees, especially on citrus and cotton. The report also identified a residue level of 25 parts per billion (ppb) for imidacloprid, “which sets a threshold above which effects on pollinator hives are likely to be seen,  and at that level and below which effects are unlikely.”  This threshold has been grossly overestimated according to numerous reports that point to much lower exposure rates. In 2014, a study published in Ecotoxicology found near-infinitesimal exposure to neonics reduces bees’ ability to gather food.

The risk assessment also fails to analyze neonic-treated seeds, which yield no greater efficiency or benefits to agriculture compared to untreated seeds. This is an area of neonic use that must be addressed given their presence in conventional agriculture. For instance, more than 90% of canola in North America is planted with neonic-treated seeds. Seed treatment raises concerns  due to the systemic qualities of neonicotinoids and their persistence in the environment. This requires the analysis of soil, water, and other wildlife, such as birds and aquatic invertebrates, to truly assess the toxic effect of neonics on bees in their totality. In response to loose regulation, Center for Food Safety, representing  several beekeepers, farmers and sustainable agriculture and conservation groups, filed a  lawsuit  in federal court last week  charging EPA with a  failure to adequately regulate neonicotinoid insecticide seed coatings used on dozens of crops throughout the U.S.

Bayer’s unnamed spokesperson also notes that EPA’s risk assessment “didn’t say [neonicotinoids] are a risk to honeybee colonies.” Not only is Bayer denouncing the possibility that Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is caused by neonics, but it also hints that any report making such claims would be unsound. This statement reflects not the strength of the science, but the weakness of EPA’s assessment, highlighting their reluctance to adequately study neonic effects at the colony level. According to EPA’s report, colony study “was not considered appropriate” even though it “represents a limitation in the risk assessment” claiming that “the uncertainty is not likely to substantially alter the risk conclusions”¦except when exposure via pollen is extraordinarily high due to nectar.” Considering that exposure levels acceptable to EPA are well above those supported by the scientific community, “extraordinarily high” levels, above 25 ppb, may be unrealistic.

Given the deficiencies in EPA’s report, Bayer’s recent change of heart appears weak. And history has shown their shaky commitment to pollinators. One year ago, EPA registered flupyradifurone, a new pesticide marketed by Bayer as an alternative to neonics that is “safer for bees.” Last year, Bayer donated $100,000 to Project Apis m., a non-profit organization that dedicates itself to enhancing the health of honey bees. Although the donation is directed towards providing additional forage to bees, Bayer continues to fund much larger projects and lawsuits aimed at silencing scientific evidence that blames neonics for colony collapse.

Beyond Pesticides has long advocated a regulatory approach  that prohibits high hazard chemical use and requires alternative assessments. Farm, beekeeper, and environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, have urged EPA to follow in the European Union’s footsteps and suspend the huge numbers of other bee-harming pesticides already on the market.  We suggest an approach that rejects uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, and instead focuses on  safer alternatives that are proven effective, such as  organic agriculture, which prohibits the use of neonicotinoids. See how  you can  help through  Bee Protective.

 All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: The Guardian

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