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 Now some environmental advocates say that an outdated EPA loophole called “conditional registration” is the gateway through which pesticides have continued their fatal work.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