What do France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Slovenia have in common? They’ve all taken action to suspend or restrict the use of insecticides that have been linked to the rapid and devastating decline in global bee populations. Even Britain is currently taking steps to assess the risk to bees. The United States remains the only major nation to turn a deaf ear to cries for action. And the global community wants to know why.
A just-released series of reports by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found that the main neonicotinoid insecticides — clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid — present both acute and chronic risks to the survival of honey bees and other beneficial insects. Previously, the U.S.-based Center for Food Safety (CFS) has urged the EPA to suspend use of these insecticides until it can rule out their damaging effects. The response makes molasses look like a track star. Even more troubling is the fact that they haven’t even pumped the brakes on new bee-killing insecticides.
Neonicotinoids are a newer class of systemic insecticide chemicals that are absorbed by plants and transported throughout the plant’s vascular tissue, making the entire plant potentially toxic to insects. Neonicotinoid chemicals were first registered by the EPA in the 1990s and came into heavy use in the mid-2000s, which just happens to be the same time beekeepers started observing widespread cases of Colony Collapse Disorder — the emptying and vanishing of whole hives for no apparent reason.
Despite this troubling coincidence, the EPA has continued to approve more than 100 neonicotinoid products for unrestricted use on dozens of crops, including the vast majority of corn seed planted in North America, cotton, soybeans and dozens of other crops covering an estimated 200 million total acres.
“EPA cannot continue to condone the use of chemicals responsible for the wholesale killing of our pollinators and the irreparable damage of the U.S. food supply,” said Center for Food Safety attorney Peter Jenkins. “Many of the most scientifically and agriculturally advanced nations have seen the dangers these neonicotinoids present and are reacting,” said Jenkins. “The question is why isn’t the U.S.?”
Normally environmentalists and industry are at odds when it come to chemical use. But in this situation, we’re both really on the same side. Bees are ESSENTIAL for agriculture. If their population becomes to sparse, or disappears completely, the food industry will suffer dramatic losses. Cross-pollination accomplished by bees and other pollinators is essential to at least 30 percent of the world’s crops and 90 percent of wild plants. Simply put, without bees to spread seeds, many plants—including food crops—would die off. So just exactly who is the EPA protecting by not investigating this problem to the fullest?
In March 2012, 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.
Image via Thinkstock