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Boulder County, Colorado farm. Photo credit: Flickr

GMO Crops, Bee-Killing Insecticides to Be Banned on Boulder County-Owned Land

Boulder County, Colorado will completely phase out genetically modified (GMO) corn and sugar beets, and neonicotinoid insecticides on county-owned land.

According to the Daily Camera, commissioners voted 2-1 last week to approve the latest version of a transition plan that bans the cultivation of GMO corn by the end of 2019 and GMO sugar beets by the end of 2021. Neonicotinoids, which have been widely blamed for the declines of bees and other pollinators, will also be phased out within five years on county properties.

GMO corn and sugar beets are the only GMO crops grown on county-owned land, accounting for 1,200 acres, or eight percent, of Boulder County's leased open space in 2015.

The plan, however, leaves open the possibility for Boulder County to consider growing GMO crops with traits that do not rely on the use of pesticides.

Commissioner Elise Jones, who voted for the transition plan, noted that she is not concerned about the safety of GMO crops specifically but the effects of the pesticides used on some of these crops.

"Let's acknowledge: This is not an easy issue; it's not a simple one," Jones said.

But commissioner Cindy Domenico dissented, commenting that "the science on [genetically engineered] crops is not settled."

347 Native Bee Species 'Spiraling Toward Extinction'

In the first comprehensive review of the more than 4,000 native bee species in North America and Hawaii, the Center for Biological Diversity has found that more than half the species with sufficient data to assess are declining. Nearly one in four is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.

The new analysis, Pollinators in Peril: A systematic status review of North American and Hawaiian native bees, revealed that more than 700 species are in trouble from a range of serious threats, including severe habitat loss and escalating pesticide use.

"The evidence is overwhelming that hundreds of the native bees we depend on for ecosystem stability, as well as pollination services worth billions of dollars, are spiraling toward extinction," said Kelsey Kopec, a native pollinator researcher at the Center for Biological Diversity and author of the study. "It's a quiet but staggering crisis unfolding right under our noses that illuminates the unacceptably high cost of our careless addiction to pesticides and monoculture farming.

"The widespread decline of European honeybees has been well documented in recent years. But until now much less has been revealed about the 4,337 native bee species in North America and Hawaii. These mostly solitary, ground-nesting bees play a crucial ecological role by pollinating wild plants and provide more than $3 billion in fruit-pollination services each year in the United States.

The key findings:

  • Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining. (Click here to see a list of the bees as well as their status and geographic range).
  • Nearly one in four (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.
  • Many of the bee species lacking sufficient data are also likely declining or at risk of extinction, highlighting the urgent need for additional research.
  • The declines are caused primarily by habitat loss, heavy pesticide use, climate change and urbanization.

These troubling findings come as a growing body of research has revealed that more than 40 percent of insect pollinators are highly threatened globally, including many of the native bees critical to unprompted crop and wildflower pollination across the U.S.

To assess current population trends and threats as comprehensibly as possible for the 4,337 described species of North American and Hawaiian bees, Center for Biological Diversity staff reviewed the current conservation status of 316 species as established by state, federal or independent research. We then conducted a comprehensive review of all available literature on native bees to determine a status for an additional 1,121 species.

"We're on the verge of losing hundreds of native bee species in the United States if we don't act to save them," said Kopec, who spent more than a year analyzing the data. "Almost 90 percent of wild plants are dependent on insect pollination. If we don't act to save these remarkable creatures, our world will be a less colorful and more lonesome place."

The assessment highlights five imperiled native bees that offer a vivid snapshot of the unchecked threats driving declines in many native bee species:

Yellow carpet solitary bee: This dark, olive-green bee, whose fate is intertwined with its floral host and California's dwindling vernal pools, is severely threatened with extinction.

Sunflower leafcutting bee: This spectacularly large bee used to be seen patrolling sunflower stands throughout the Great Plains; it is now in steep decline and rarely seen.

Wild sweet potato bee: Known for its unique three-lobed snout, this bee, once commonly seen foraging across much of the East, is now dangerously imperiled.

Gulf Coast solitary bee: Completely dependent on the disappearing coastal plain honeycombhead plant and the barrier-island sand dunes where it nests, this bee is now found only within a shrinking portion of its range along the Gulf Coast.

Macropis cuckoo bee: This nest invader, which takes over the nests of other bee species to lay its eggs, was once common across much of central and eastern North America but is now considered that region's most endangered bee.

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Trump Administration Sued for Suspending Protections for Endangered Bumble Bee

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the Trump administration Tuesday for illegally suspending the rule to put the rusty patched bumble bee on the endangered species list. The rusty patched bumble bee has lost approximately 90 percent of its range in the past 20 years. It is the first bumble bee ever listed under the Endangered Species Act.

"The Trump administration broke the law by blocking the rusty patched bumble bee from the endangered species list," Rebecca Riley, senior attorney with the NRDC, said. "The science is clear—this species is headed toward extinction and soon. There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections for this bee. In this case, the decision to freeze protections for the rusty patched bumble bee without public notice and comment violates the law."

In the case filed in the U.S. District Court in New York City, NRDC asks the court to stop the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from implementing and enforcing the bumble bee delay order. The White House instructed agencies to withdraw or freeze a broad array of rules issued by the Obama administration to protect public health and the environment.

The suit claims the agencies broke the law by freezing the bumble bee's endangered species listing without public notice or an opportunity for comment. In its complaint, NRDC contends the agencies cannot suspend the listing because the rule was final when published in the Federal Register.

This is the third lawsuit NRDC has filed against the Trump administration for its attacks on regulation. In response to the same regulatory freeze directive, NRDC is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for illegally rescinding a rule that would protect the public from more than five tons of mercury discharges each year. And last week, NRDC joined Public Citizen and Communications Workers of America in seeking to block a Jan. 30 executive order requiring agencies to repeal two existing regulations for each new regulation it puts in place.


Dead bees in the beehives at Ochlenberg. © Greenpeace / Mike Krishnatreya

'It's Outrageous': EPA Acknowledges Proven Dangers of Bee-Killing Pesticides But Refuses to Restrict Them

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that three of the nation's most-used neonicotinoid pesticides pose significant risks to commercial honey bees. But in a second decision, which represents a deep bow to the pesticide industry, the agency refused to restrict the use of any leading bee-killing pesticides despite broad evidence of their well-established role in alarming declines of pollinators.

The EPA analysis indicates that honey bees can be harmed by the widely-used pesticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam and dinetofuran. The agency also released an updated assessment for a fourth leading neonicotinoid—imidacloprid—showing that in addition to harms to pollinators identified last year, the pesticide can also harm aquatic insects.

Yet on the same day the EPA revealed the dangers these pesticides pose to pollinators, it reversed course and backed away from a proposed rule to place limited restrictions on use of the bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides when commercial honey bees are present in a field. Instead, the agency announced voluntary guidelines that impose no mandatory use restrictions.

"It's outrageous that on the same day the EPA acknowledged these dangerous pesticides are killing bees it also reversed course on mandating restrictions on their use," said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Environmental Health program. "This is like a doctor diagnosing your illness but then deciding to withhold the medicine you need to cure it."

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides known to have both acute and chronic effects on honey bees, birds, butterflies and other pollinator species, and they are a major factor in overall pollinator declines. These systemic insecticides cause entire plants, including their pollen and nectar, to become toxic to pollinators. These chemicals are also slow to break down and they build up in soil, where they pose an especially grave threat to thousands of species of ground-nesting native bees. In November the largest and most comprehensive ever global assessment of pollinators found that 40 percent of pollinating insects are threatened with extinction, naming neonicotinoids as a significant driver of wild pollinator declines.

"The new policy does virtually nothing to protect America's thousands of declining native bee species or to curb the escalating use of these harmful neonicotinoid pesticides across hundreds of millions of acres in the United States," said Burd. "It's shocked that the EPA's response to the crisis of declining pollinators and the abundant science linking that decline to neonicotinoid insecticides is to meekly offer a policy encouraging industry to consider restricting pesticide use in limited situations where plants are blooming while commercial honey bees have been brought in to work the fields. This is a rejection of science that should be deeply troubling to all Americans as we move into a Trump administration."

Neonicotinoids have already been banned by the European Union and in 2016 they were banned on all U.S. national wildlife refuges due to their harmful impacts on wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Canada has also proposed a ban on a neonicotinoid because of its unacceptable threats.

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Court Fails to Protect Bees From Toxic Pesticides

A judge in the Northern District of California delivered a crushing blow Monday to the nation's beekeepers and imperiled honeybees. The judge ruled against the beekeepers and public interest advocates in a lawsuit seeking to protect honeybees and the broader environment from unregulated harms caused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) lax policies for seeds coated with certain insecticides known to cause massive die-offs of honeybees.

Thinkstock

The seed-coatings in question are the bee-killing neonicotinoids, or "neonics," which are strongly linked to the record-high colony mortality suffered by commercial beekeepers, as well as to water pollution and risks to birds and other beneficial species. Corn and soybean seeds, in particular, coated with these chemicals are planted across nearly 150 million acres of the U.S., in what is by far the most extensive type of insecticide application in the nation.

"It is astounding that a judge, EPA or anyone with any common sense would not regulate this type of toxic pesticide use, especially when the seed-coatings are so broadly applied and there is so much at risk," Andrew Kimbrell, director of Center for Food Safety, said. "Study after study has shown that seeds coated with these chemicals are a major culprit in catastrophic bee-kills. Now more than ever our country's beekeepers, environment and food system deserve protection from agrichemical interests and it is EPA's job to deliver it."

The EPA has exempted the seeds from regulation or mandatory labeling, despite their known toxicity. This exemption was the basis of the lawsuit filed by Center for Food Safety in the public interest and on behalf of several impacted beekeepers.

The judge dismissed the case on an administrative procedure basis, not on the fundamental question of whether the exempted seeds are harming honeybees. In fact, the judge stated in his conclusion: The court is most sympathetic to the plight of our bee population and beekeepers. Perhaps the EPA should have done more to protect them, but such policy decisions are for the agency to make.

"The broader implications of this decision drive the nails in the bee industry's coffin," said Jeff Anderson, a California and Minnesota-based commercial beekeeper and honey producer, who was the lead plaintiff in the case. "Of course as a beekeeper I am concerned about my livelihood, but the public at large should also be alarmed. More than one-third of the average person's diet is generated by pollinators that I help manage."

The Center for Food Safety is representing the plaintiffs in the case and said the group is considering all options.

EPA Re-Affirms Decision to Allow Toxic Chemical Concoction on Next Generation of GMO Crops

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) re-approved and proposed a dramatic expansion Tuesday of the use of the toxic pesticide Enlist Duo after only a cursory review of troubling data showing the two chemicals in the pesticide combine to have "synergistic" effects that are potentially harmful to endangered species and the environment. If approved the pesticide cocktail could be used on corn, soy and cotton in 34 states—up from 15 states where the product was previously approved for just corn and soy.

Chafer Machinery / Flickr

"EPA's sudden about-face on this product is just astounding," Dr. Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. "Just last year the EPA asked a court to cancel registration of this product due to the unknown risks it posed and now it suddenly wants to more than double the number of states where the pesticide can be used? This proposal ignores the available data and will potentially harm our environment."

The rush to expand the use of Dow AgroSciences' toxic chemical concoction of glyphosate and 2, 4-D for use on the next generation of genetically engineered crops comes only one year after the EPA asked a court to revoke its previous approval. That request, filed in response to litigation challenging Enlist Duo's approval, resulted from the agency's discovery that Dow AgroSciences had filed patent applications for the product filed with the U.S. Patent Office claiming "synergy." The EPA believed the product therefore could have significant and unknown environmental impacts. On Tuesday the EPA announced it does not believe the product has synergistic effects, despite Dow's claims to the Patent Office.

"We're disappointed that EPA has doubled down on Enlist Duo rather than pulled its registration of this hazardous pesticide. Unless EPA makes substantial changes to its previous registration of Enlist Duo, we remain confident it violates the law," Paul Achitoff, a managing attorney at Earthjustice, said.

Dow created Enlist crops as a quick fix for the superweed problem created by "Roundup Ready" crops that were genetically engineered to withstand what would otherwise be a toxic dose of the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Just as overuse of antibiotics has left resistant strains of bacteria to thrive, repeated use of Roundup on those crops has resulted in the proliferation of glyphosate-resistant "superweeds" across millions of acres of U.S. farmland. Farmers are already reporting that some weeds have now also developed tolerance to 2, 4-D. This means this next generation of new herbicide-tolerant crops will result in massive increases in pesticide use and perpetuate the pesticide treadmill.

The EPA's negligence in evaluating the potential harms of new pesticides is not a new development. Earlier this year the Center for Biological Diversity released a groundbreaking report, Toxic Concoctions, finding that more than two-thirds of new pesticides registered in the past six years by the four major pesticide companies had patents demonstrating their new products' synergistic effects with other pesticides—effects the EPA failed to consider. Synergism can greatly increase the harm of the pesticides to nontarget species such as bees and butterflies. Prior to 2016 the EPA had not considered patents showing pesticide synergy or incorporated the publicly available patent information into their analyses of these new pesticides. The organization followed this report with a petition to the EPA asking that it require information on pesticide synergy in pesticide-registration applications. The EPA has yet to act on that petition.

"EPA's decision is a capitulation to the agrichemical industry," George Kimbrell, senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety, said. "We will continue to protect farmers, consumers and the environment from this toxic crop system, and are exploring all legal options."

A senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Ph.D., agrees: "Once again, EPA has failed to protect the health, well-being and livelihood of America's farmers and rural communities. The agency's decision dramatically increases the risk of pesticide drift causing severe crop losses and harms to human health."

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Shocking Number of Top Retailers Sell Food Produced With Pesticides Toxic to Bees

A new report and scorecard grades 20 of the largest food retailers in the U.S on their policies and practices regarding pollinator protection, organic offerings and pesticide reduction.

Of the top food retailers, 17 received an "F" for failing to have a publicly available policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use to protect pollinators. Only Aldi, Costco and Whole Foods received passing grades in this category.

Four of the top food retailers—Albertsons, Costco, Target and Whole Foods—have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.Friends of the Earth

"U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis," said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth. "The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. We urge all major retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and to expand domestic organic offerings that protect pollinators, people and the planet."

Today's report, Swarming the Aisles: Rating Top Retailers on Bee-Friendly and Organic Food, comes amid mounting consumer pressure on food retailers to adopt more environmentally-friendly sourcing policies.

A coalition led by Friends of the Earth and more than 50 farmer, beekeeper, farmworker, environmental and public interest organizations sent a letter urging the food retailers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and increase the U.S. Department of Agriculture certified organic food and beverages to 15 percent of overall offerings by 2025, prioritizing domestic, regional and local producers. This effort follows a campaign by Friends of the Earth and allies that convinced more than 65 garden retailers, including Lowe's and Home Depot, to commit to eliminate bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bees and other pollinators are essential for one in three bites of food we eat and without them grocery stores would run short of strawberries, almonds, apples, broccoli and more. A growing body of science points to the world's most widely-used insecticides, neonicotinoids, as a leading factor in pollinator declines and glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide worldwide, as a key culprit in monarch butterfly declines.

New data from a YouGov Poll released today by Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs found that 80 percent of Americans believe it is important to eliminate neonicotinoids from agriculture. Among Americans who grocery shop for their household, 65 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that has formally committed to eliminating neonicotinoids. The poll also revealed that 59 percent of American grocery shoppers believe it is important for grocery stores to sell organic food and 43 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that sells more organic food than their current grocery store. The full poll results are available on request.

"Over 750,000 SumOfUs members have spoken out advocating that U.S. Hardware stores take action to protect our pollinators. And after years of pressure, Home Depot and Lowe's have finally enacted more bee-friendly policies," said Angus Wong, lead campaign strategist at SumOfUs, a consumer watchdog with ten million members. "And the findings of this poll show that a vast majority of consumers want to eliminate neonicotinoids from their grocery stores too. This is why food retailers must commit policies that protect our bees immediately."

The report found that while consumer demand for organic and pesticide-free food continues to show double-digit growth, only four of the top food retailers—Albertsons, Costco, Target and Whole Foods—have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales. In addition to these retailers, Aldi, Food Lion, part of the Delhaize Group and Kroger disclosed data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales. None of the retailers have made a publicly available commitment to source organic from American farmers.

"To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture," said Dr. Kendra Klein, staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. "Organic farms support 50 percent more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production—farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic."

Sixteen of the top 20 food retailers were predominately unresponsive to Friends of the Earth's requests for information via surveys, calls and letters. Primary sources of information for this scorecard include publicly available information, including company websites, company annual reports, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage and industry analyses.

7 Bees Facing Extinction Added to Endangered Species List for First Time

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has added seven bee species to the endangered species list, a first for bees. Native to Hawaii, these yellow-faced bees are facing extinction due to habitat loss, wildfires and invasive species.

Cantankerous Yellow-faced Bee photographed in Hawai'i County, Hawaii.SteveMlodinow / Flickr

The tiny, solitary bees were once abundant in Hawaii, but surveys in the late 1990s found that many of its traditional sites had been urbanized or colonized by non-native plants. In March 2009, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation petitioned the USFWS to list these bee species as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

"The USFWS decision is excellent news for these bees, but there is much work that needs to be done to ensure that Hawaii's bees thrive," wrote Matthew Shepherd, communications director for Xerces, in a blog post responding to the announcement.

Yellow-faced bees are the most important pollinators for many key trees and shrubs in Hawaii. They once populated the island from the coast up to 10,000 feet on Mauna Kea and Haleakalā. They get their name from yellow-to-white facial markings, and they are often mistaken for wasps.

According to Karl Magnacca, an entomologist with the O'ahu Army Natural Resources Program, the bees evolved in an isolated environment and were unprepared for the changes brought by humans. These included new plants, domestic animals such as cattle and goats, as well as ants and other bees that compete with the native Hawaiian bees.

One of the seven species, Hylaeus anthracites, is now found in just 15 locations on Hawaii, Maui, Kahoolawe, Molokai and Oahu. Protection of these areas could be a start to aid the bees.

"Unfortunately, the USFWS has not designated any 'critical habitat,' areas of land of particular importance for the endangered bees," wrote Shepherd.

The listing comes just a week after the USFWS proposed listing another bee, the rusty patched bumble bee, to the endangered species list. During the past 50 years, about 30 percent of beehives in the U.S. have collapsed, according to the the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On Sept. 9, a new study published in the journal, Scientific Reports, found that the world's most commonly used insecticide, neonicotinoids, caused queen bees to lay fewer eggs and worker bees to be less productive. A Greenpeace investigation of internal studies conducted by chemical makers Bayer and Syngenta showed that these chemicals can harm honeybee colonies when exposed to high concentrations. In January, the EPA found that one of these neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, can be harmful to bees.

The National Pesticide Information Center states unequivocally, "Imidacloprid is very toxic to honeybees and other beneficial insects." The EPA has proposed prohibiting the use of neonicotinoids in the presence of bees.

The USFWS ruling protecting Hawaii's yellow-faced bees becomes effective Oct. 31.

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