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President Obama, Act Now to Save the Bees

Health + Wellness

Beyond Pesticides

In light of recent action in Europe to suspend the use of certain neonicotinoid pesticides, Beyond Pesticides joined 12 other environmental and advocacy organizations in urging the Obama Administration to direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to follow the European Union’s lead in recognizing that risks posed by these pesticides are unacceptably high, and to suspend the use of these chemicals in the U.S. to protect pollinators and the nation’s agricultural economy.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The letter urges the Obama Administration to not only direct EPA to follow Europe’s lead in suspending certain neonicotinoid pesticides uses, but requests even more protective measures, including a minimum two-year suspension for all outdoor uses of neonicotinoid insecticides pending resolution of their hazards to bees and beneficial organisms. Highlighting the negative environmental and economic impacts of outdoor uses of the EPA-approved neonicotinoid insecticides—imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinetofuran and acetamiprid—as well as a recognition that the initial risk assessments for these chemicals fail to adequately consider key risks to bee health, the letter to President Obama notes that it, “would not be responsible to continue to allow these threatening compounds to be used so broadly.”

On average, U.S. beekeepers lost 45.1 percent of the colonies in their operation during the winter of 2012-2013, with many reporting over 70 percent losses of their bee colonies. Recently, over 50,000 bumble bees, representing approximately 300 colonies, were killed after the application of a neonicotinoid pesticide to trees in Oregon. Given that bee pollination is a $20-$30 billion per year contributor to U.S. agriculture and vital to the majority of fruit and vegetable produce, current impacts on bees are rapidly evolving into devastating—perhaps irreversible—losses to farmers, consumers and the economy as a whole, which relies on domestically-produced bee-pollinated food and fiber crops.

The neonicotinoid class of insecticides has been identified as a leading factor in bee declines. Neonicotinoids are systemic insecticides used primarily as seed treatment for corn and soybeans, as well as in home and garden products. The Center for Food Safety has a comprehensive list of neonicotinoid products to avoid. These chemicals contaminate nectar and pollen, as well as soil and surface water. Foraging and navigational disruptions, immune suppression as well as learning and memory disorders have been documented in bees exposed to even low levels of these chemicals. An extensive overview of the major studies showing the effects of neonicotinoids on pollinator health can be found on Beyond Pesticides’ What the Science Shows webpage.

In March 2013, commercial beekeepers and environmental organizations filed an emergency legal petition with EPA to suspend use of the pesticides linked to honey bee deaths, urging the agency to adopt safeguards. Meanwhile in Europe, the European Commission passed a continent-wide suspension on the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, citing unacceptable hazards to bees, which is supported by a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report that finds the neonicotinoid class of insecticides of “critical concern” to bee health. Unfortunately, in the U.S., response from federal regulatory agencies is stymied. Despite the groundbreaking decision in Europe, EPA released a report which failed to address the overwhelming scientific evidence of neonicotinoid-related bee deaths or present any sustainable solution to address the bee crisis.

The letter also brings several key acknowledgments by federal officials made in public statements at recent meetings, in media statements, in EPA documents and other venues to the Administration, including:

  • EPA’s enforcement guidance for neonicotinoid use is inadequate.
  • EPA’s bee kill incident reporting system is inadequate.
  • Labels on neonicotinoid products are inadequate to mitigate adverse environmental effects, specifically to avoid seed dust-mediated mortality to honey bees and other beneficial insects in or near corn fields.
  • Current corn planting machinery poses significant dust-off risks and needs changing, while also recognizing that such changes will likely take many years and stating that EPA lacks authority to mandate machinery changes.
  • Bee health and populations, and crop pollination, are in a near-crisis state based on several synergistic factors including insecticide use.
  • EPA has not consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on potential effects on threatened or endangered species under Sec. 7 of the Endangered Species Act for the neonicotinoid insecticides.

According to the concerned groups, EPA has refused to exercise its regulatory power to address the major contribution of these insecticides to bee declines. Instead, the agency has pointed to land use decisions, crop planting choices by farmers, pathogens, bee nutrition and other factors outside the agency’s authority, while failing to adopt measures that could offer long-term sustainable protection of bee populations. The letter also cites emerging science which documents extensive surface water contamination and impacts on non-target organisms such as aquatic invertebrates, birds and other pollinators.

“We could face a second Silent Spring above and beyond the threats to managed and wild pollinators,” the letter states. Additionally, it states that EPA’s planned 2018 deadline to complete its registration reviews for the major neonicotinoids “is far too slow in view of their potentially calamitous risks.”

The signatories to this letter include: Beyond Pesticides, The Center for Food Safety, Pesticides Action Network North America, Friends of the Earth, The Xerces Society, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Food & Water Watch, Center for Environmental Health, American Bird Conservancy and the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.

Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective campaign also has educational tools to help the pollinators in your yard, park or garden and information to help transform your community and raise awareness about pollinator health.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

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