How a 40 Year-Old EPA Loophole Helped Kill the Bees

Scientists have issued dire warning after dire warning: honey bees all over the world are dying at an unprecedented rate, and without them, our agricultural system could be the next to go.

Bees pollinate one-third of Americans’ daily diet. If they go extinct, we’d lose more than honey; the size of your average produce section would shrink dramatically. Then there are all the plants pollinated by bees that we don’t eat. Those are kind of important, too.

Colony Collapse Disorder has been troubling bee keepers and farmers for many years, and though the consequences threaten every single human on the planet, the United States has been painfully slow to act. Multiple studies have pointed to rampant use of chemical pesticides as an explanation for the sudden decline in bee populations, with some dropping dead simultaneously in massive die-offs.

But these chemicals don’t just sell and spray themselves. They have to be allowed into the market by the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency that should be fighting tooth and nail to save the bees. Now some environmental advocates say that an outdated EPA loophole called “conditional registration” is the gateway through which pesticides have continued their fatal work.

“…it’s essentially a way to get pesticides on the market quickly,” writes Kendall Helblig for McClatchy DC. “The conditional registration system began in 1978 with an amendment to the law that governs insecticide use. It allows some pesticides to be sold before all necessary studies are completed as long as the company follows up with required data by a designated date.”

The article goes on to point out that even after these products are “conditionally approved” the EPA struggles to keep track of them or their impacts.

“About 16,000 pesticides are currently registered with the EPA, and each manager in the agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs is responsible for keeping track of about 800,” writes Helblig. “As a result, the GAO [Government Accountability Office] found that the EPA is unable to provide accurate information on the current number of conditionally registered products. (Both the NRDC advocacy group and the EPA have said about two-thirds of pesticides are conditionally registered, although the flawed recordkeeping make it difficult to confirm that number.)”

And why do we have this lovely little loophole written into the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)? Because back in the 1970′s the chemical companies pumping out pesticides complained about having to do the extra work needed to prove that their products weren’t harmful to people or the environment. So basically, the government just gave them a pass. Now, any pesticide that closely resembles something that’s already “approved” is granted conditional registration, even without current scientific evidence that it’s safe for pollinators. Or us. (Learn more about the rationale behind conditional registration on the EPA website. It’s a wild read.)

If all of these pesticides had been required to satisfy the criteria of full registration, it’s highly unlikely they would have made it to market, and even more unlikely that we’d be lamenting the mysterious disappearance of our most precious pollinator.

Image via cgpgrey

88 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

sad news but thanks for sharing :)

Jeannine A. Johnson
Jeannine Johnson2 years ago

" That's Right Nimue P. I Save Up All My Butterfly Credits And I send Bee's To Guatamalian Women !That's My Way Of Helping Climate Change ! And Helping The Bee's !

Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo2 years ago

Thank you for the news! We must fight for a ban on deadly chemicals.

Virginia C.
Virginia C.2 years ago

Please sign my petition to the Humane Society of the United States asking them to change the laws to help Rescue Groups. These people are doing this on a volunteer basis and using all their own resources. I am hoping my petition can help them in some way by forcing the animal abusers to pay a fine to the Rescue Groups. https://www.change.org/petitions/the-humane-society-of-the-united-states-change-the-law-to-help-fund-animal-rescue-groups#

Debra L. Watson
Debra L. Watson2 years ago

This has to stop! We are killing off our planet with these reckless regulations!

Sandi C.
Sandi C.2 years ago

thanks for posting

Annemarie Sens
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you for this article.

Karen Chestney

As long as the bottom line is money there will be those who destroy for more of it.....and ....those who will use it to "buy" people in controlling positions to get what it is that they want. Only if "moral" persons ...who can not be bought...and are overseen by "The People"... control the money.... will things change.

Janis K.
Janis K.2 years ago

Thanks for sharing