All around the world, bee colonies are dwindling thanks to a phenomenon scientists call Colony Collapse Disorder. After several studies linked the mysterious deaths to a class of pesticides known as “neonicotinoids,” major nations took action by suspending or banning their use. But not the United States.
Appalled by the EPA’s apparent disinterest in protecting both the bees and our food supply, four beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the agency for its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides. The bees, it seems, will finally get their day in court, although it never really should have come to this.
A year ago, the Center for Food Safety and a coalition including 25 prominent beekeepers filed an Emergency Petition with the EPA asking the agency to suspend the use of certain neonicotinoids until they are proven safe to pollinators, the environment and future food security. The agency indicated it will not finish its Registration Review for these substances until 2018, the bureaucratic equivalent of a shoulder shrug. But the bees and those who depend on them (that’s you, by the way) wouldn’t be silenced that easily.
“America’s beekeepers cannot survive for long with the toxic environment EPA has supported. Bee-toxic pesticides in dozens of widely used products, on top of many other stresses our industry faces, are killing our bees and threatening our livelihoods,” said plaintiff Steve Ellis, a Minnesota and California beekeeper. “Our country depends on bees for crop pollination and honey production. It’s time for EPA to recognize the value of bees to our food system and agricultural economy.”
The coalition that filed the suit seeks suspension of the registrations of insecticides that have repeatedly been identified as highly toxic to honey bees, clear causes of major bee kills and significant contributors to the devastating ongoing mortality of bees known as colony collapse disorder. The suit challenges EPA’s ongoing handling of the pesticides as well as the agency’s practice of “conditional registration” and labeling deficiencies.
The case also challenges the use of so-called “conditional registrations” for these pesticides, which expedites commercialization by bypassing meaningful premarket review. Since 2000, over two-thirds of pesticide products, including clothianidin and thiamethoxam, have been brought to market as conditional registrations.
Independent scientists have assessed the effects of clothianidin and thiamethoxam on honey bee colony health and development, examining both sub-lethal exposure effects and acute risks. Scientists have also identified massive data gaps that prevent accurate assessments as to their continued safety, not just for honey bees but for ecosystem integrity on the whole. A major new report issued recently by the American Bird Conservancy sounds dire warnings about EPA’s failures to assess threats to birds and to the aquatic ecosystems many species depend upon.
“Beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups have demonstrated time and time again over the last several years that EPA needs to protect bees. The agency has refused, so we’ve been compelled to sue,” said Center for Food Safety attorney, Peter T. Jenkins. “EPA’s unlawful actions should convince the Court to suspend the approvals for clothianidin and thiamethoxam products until those violations are resolved.”
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