The EPA Says One Insecticide Does Harm Honey Bees in Some Cases

In a notable scientific review the Environmental Protection Agency has said that there is strong enough evidence to suggest that, in high doses, at least one neonocitinoid poses a “significant” risk to honey bees. Here’s what you need to know about this important and contentious finding.

Neonicotinoids are a relatively new form of insecticide that directly affects the central nervous system of insects, this resulting in paralysis and death. The insecticide family, which includes imidacloprid, acetamiprid, and thiamethoxam to name just a few, is billed as being safe for larger insects and should only affect targeted smaller “pests” without impacting the food chain.

However, campaigners have long called on the EPA to act on neonicotinoids, saying that there is ample evidence that they harm pollinators which have declined alarmingly in the past few decades. However, the pesticide industry has always denied claims that neonicotinoids are harmful to pollinators, pointing out that there is a discrepancy in lab tests–which they say expose bees to much higher doses than would be found in real world settings–and actual tests in crop fields where, they say, the evidence doesn’t show negative effects from neonicotinoids. As we’ve previously talked about, there is now firmer proof that the pesticides do harm individual bees but bee colonies as a whole may be more resilient.

That to one side, the EPA has consistently resisted calls to ban the pesticides saying it didn’t have enough evidence to act and instead would need a scientific review. Now, the first of four reviews is done and the EPA is saying they are concerned about neonicotinoids.

“Delivering on the President’s National Pollinator Strategy means EPA is committed not only to protecting bees and reversing bee loss, but for the first time assessing the health of the colony for the neonicotinoid pesticides,” a release quotes Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, as saying. “Using science as our guide, this preliminary assessment reflects our collaboration with the State of California and Canada to assess the results of the most recent testing required by EPA.” 

The preliminary findings suggest that there is a threshold at which the neonicotinoid imidacloprid–among the most widely used insecticides–will impact bees. The EPA says its findings show that residue below 25 parts per billion appears to indicate no risk to bees. However, over that threshold and the EPA says they saw bee die-offs and lower production of honey, as well as overall lower quality of health in bee colonies.

A release from the EPA gives the following examples of crops that are treated with imidacloprid:

[...] data show that citrus and cotton may have residues of the pesticide in pollen and nectar above the threshold level. Other crops such as corn and leafy vegetables either do not produce nectar or have residues below the EPA identified level. Additional data is being generated on these and other crops to help EPA evaluate whether imidacloprid poses a risk to hives.

Last year the EPA proposed rules to limit when insecticides could be used, namely when pollinating crops are in bloom and so are likely to be visited by bees. It also slowed the approval of new insecticides coming to the market. It’s unclear whether the EPA will revise those proposed rules in light of this finding. It’s more likely that the EPA will wait until December 2016 and its completed review of evidence surrounding three other neonicotinoids, which are clothianidin, thiamethoxam and dinotefuran, before taking action. 

This measured approach by the EPA seems to have pleased no one however.

Campaigners say these findings are just confirming what we already know and are floored anyway because the EPA is looking only at honey bees. Research has shown that honey bees are actually relatively robust as a species, therefore looking only at them when wild bees may be impacted far more could bias the data. 

The makers behind imidacloprid, Bayer Crop Sciences, also appear annoyed with the EPA. In their case, they say that the EPA ”appears to overestimate the potential for harmful exposures in certain crops.” Bayer Vice President Dana Sargent is quoted as saying, ”With hundreds of studies conducted and their demonstrated safe use on farmland across the country, we know more about the safe use of neonics to honeybees than any other pesticide.”

Scientists have pointed out that anything that can be done to reduce the pressure on bees is a positive step, though they are concerned that the general public might believe that neonicotinoids are the only stress factor, which isn’t true: parasitic infection, general habitat loss and climate change all appear to be playing a part as well as insecticide use.

Despite all these misgivings, the EPA has taken an important step in stating specific thresholds at which these insecticides might become harmful. That will be important should we want legislation in the future to limit insecticide use, and more so for wider discussion of insecticides which could be key in motivating lawmakers and governments to act.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

60 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner1 years ago

Bayer is one of the "Big Five" US based planet destroyers. These five terrorist organizations consist of Monsanto, Bayer, Sygenta, Dow and Dupont. They must be taken down as they are perpetrating worst terrorst acts than ISIS every single day. It is worse since their actions are not only an assault on human populations, they are committing massive ecocide and assaulting the future of all life on Earth.

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Ryan Madero
Ryan Madero1 years ago

Thanks for the share!

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Ryan Madero
Ryan Madero1 years ago

Save the bees

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Sherri S.
Sherri S1 years ago

It is about time the EPA admits that neonicotinoids are harmful to pollinators. Now how long is it going to take for them to do something about their distribution and usage?

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Robert Petermann
bob P1 years ago

The EPA approves many things based on testing the companies do, poison is poison is deadly to more than one species. Thanks for sharing.

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Marcia Geiger
Marcia G1 years ago

At last they can admit to something that has been obvious for so long. Now if they could just expand those old brain cells to understand that the poison doesn't just land on bees and nothing else.....

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Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y1 years ago

Finally, the EPA backs up the science! Nix neonics!!
(not just deadly to bees but other insects, arachnids, the entire food web)

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Patricia Harris
John Taylor1 years ago

DIane L., man can stop killing/destroying, if we could just keep on raising our voices, and protesting against these bastards!!!! We are going make these idiots pay for all the damages they have done to our beautiful home planet!!!! We are going to win the war against the greedy, no matter how long this fight will continue!!!! We can't afford to let this disaster go on any further than it already has, and we won't rest until we have stopped the destruction of the Earth. and it's natural resources for good!!!!

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Patricia Harris
John Taylor1 years ago

It's time to stop these assholes from selling this crap!!!! We can stop them!!!!

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