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Bees pollinating sorghum. The EPA has not approved the lethal insecticide sulfoxaflor to be used on sorghum because it is known to attract bees. Sahaquiel9102 / Wikimedia

More than 40 percent of insects could go extinct globally in the next few decades. So why did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week OK the 'emergency' use of the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor on 13.9 million acres?

EcoWatch teamed up with Center for Biological Diversity via EcoWatch Live on Facebook to find out why. Environmental Health Director and Senior Attorney Lori Ann Burd explained how there is a loophole in the The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act under section 18, "that allows for entities and states to request emergency exemptions to spraying pesticides where they otherwise wouldn't be allowed to spray."

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By Sue Branford and Thais Borges

With the ruralist lobby now in control of key sectors of the federal government, Brazil is rapidly approving new pesticides for use, some of which critics say are either unnecessary or excessively toxic. During the first 100 days of the Jair Bolsonaro administration, the Agriculture Ministry authorized the registration of 152 pesticides, putting Brazil on course to authorize more pesticides this year than in any previous year. Brazil is already the world's largest user of pesticides.

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Bumblebees are important agricultural pollinators, so their decline is cause for concern. James Johnstone / CC BY 2.0

As evidence builds that neonicotinoids harm bees and other pollinators and bodies like the EU move to ban them, the agricultural sector is casting about for something to replace what is currently the most-used type of insecticide worldwide.

But a study published in Nature Wednesday serves as a warning that any new pesticides must be properly vetted.

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Thinkstock

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has routinely been allowing use of unapproved pesticides under the pretext of an "emergency" when no actual emergency exists, according to an analysis released Monday by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The abuse of the emergency provision has created a loophole allowing the widespread use of unapproved pesticides, year after year, across millions of acres in ways that are either known to be harmful to wildlife or haven't been tested to be safe.

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A bee pollinating a flower in the French countryside. Axel Rouvin / Flickr

Bees are behind a French court ruling that suspended the license for two pesticides made by Dow Chemical.

Friday's preliminary ruling by an administrative court in Nice cited environmental risks of the pesticide sulfoxaflor. The decision overturned a ruling by ANSES, the French agency for health and environment.

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By Laura Beans

Last week, the beekeeping industry filed legal action against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approving a new bee-harming pesticide. 

According to Beyond Pesticides, the petitioners—including 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—filed the suit in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Despite evidence about the harms of the new pesticide, and research questions left unanswered, in May, the EPA approved the full registration of sulfoxaflor. The active ingredient is similar to that of neonicotinoid; it acts on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in insects and causes similarly harmful impacts on bees' brains.

Comments were submitted to the EPA by concerned beekeepers and environmental advocacy groups, stating that approval of a pesticide highly toxic to bees would only exacerbate the problems faced by the honey bee industry and further decimate bee populations, which has already reported unparallelled lows across the globe.

However, according to Pesticide Action Network, the EPA dismissed these concerns outrightly and instead pointed to a need for sulfoxaflor by industry and agriculture groups to control insects resistant to pesticide technologies. The EPA is unable (or unwilling) to act decisively to protect bees, and has instead fast-tracked the new pesticide to market.

"The EPA is charged with preventing unreasonable risk to our livestock, our livelihoods and most importantly, the nation’s food supply," said Bret Adee, a beekeeper at Adee Honey Farms with operations in South Dakota and California—and a petitioner on the case. "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."

The suit is filed on the heels of several recently publicized mass bee die-offs. Last month in Oregon, 50,000 bumblebees were found dead after a cosmetic application of dinotefuran—a neonicotinoid pesticide—was applied to ornamental trees while they were in flower. In Canada last week, 37 million bees were found dead in Elmwood, Ontario. 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. 

With reports to the contrary, the EPA says that none of the objections to sulfoxaflor 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 EPA downplayed the effects of sulfoxaflor—which include behavioral and navigational abnormalities in honey bees—as “short-lived.”

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.

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

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