Yesterday we joined beekeepers and partners in filing a legal petition that calls on EPA to suspend registration of Bayerâ€™s controversial bee-toxic pesticide, clothianidin. We also delivered over a million signatures from individuals around the world calling on the Agency to take decisive action to protect honey bees from neonicotinoid pesticides before it is too late.
Bees are still sick, and EPA is still stuck. Bees and other pollinators are still dying off at catastrophic rates â€“ commercial beekeepers lost an average of 36% of their hives last year according to U.S.D.A. Honey bees pollinate one in every three bites of our food and, as indicator species, they serve as sentinels whom we ignore at our peril. With todayâ€™s petition, weâ€™re redoubling our efforts to protect them.
As the public debate over causes behind Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) â€“ a syndrome in which bees seemingly abandon their hives â€“ carries on in the media, more and more new science has shown that neonicotinoid pesticides are indeed a critical piece of the puzzle. Neonicotinoids like clothianidin are not the sole cause of CCD, but they are making our bees sick, and at least one of them is on the market illegally.
While we may not know the exact cause of CCD, EPA knows enough to act, and has the authority and responsibility to suspend Bayerâ€™s bee-toxic pesticide, clothianidin â€“ yet for over a year the Agency has failed to do so.
Congress has the authority to exercise oversight over federal agencies like the EPA. We will continue to pressure EPA to take action on clothianidin, and expect our petition to initiate a public comment process, but in the meantime, join our petition urging Congress to step up!
*If the links above don’t work, you can sign the petition at http://bit.ly/HoneyBeePetition
Beekeepers are calling for a ban on pesticides that are lethal to bees. The chemicals known as neonicotinoids weaken bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to pathogens. Beekeepers and scientists say this could contribute to colony collapse disorder, in which all the adult honey bees in a colony suddenly disappear or die.
By Gosia Wozniacka
March 22, 2012 1:09PM
Commercial beekeepers and environmental organizations filed a petition Wednesday, asking federal regulators to suspend use of a pesticide they say harms honeybees.
The group is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban the insecticide clothianidin, one of a class of chemicals that act on the central nervous system of insects.
Over 1.25 million people also submitted comments in partnership with the organizations, calling on EPA to take action.
Beekeepers and some scientists say the chemicals known as neonicotinoids are lethal to bees and weaken their immune systems, making them more susceptible to pathogens. They say it could contribute to colony collapse disorder, in which all the adult honey bees in a colony suddenly disappear or die.
The disorder continues to decimate hives in the U.S. and overseas. Since it was recognized in 2006, the disease has destroyed colonies at a rate of about 30 percent a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Before that, losses were about 15 percent a year from a variety of pests and diseases.
Beekeepers annually replace those hives.
In response to calls for the ban on clothianidin and other neonicotinoids, the EPA is currently conducting a re-evaluation of these pesticides. France, Germany and Italy have limited or banned the use of neonicotinoids.
Bees pollinate about a third of U.S. crops.
California is the nation’s main producer of fruits and vegetables. Well over half of the bees from around the country are brought to the state at the end of February for almond pollination.
Beekeepers and environmentalists say the EPA ignored its own requirements and failed to study the impacts of clothianidin on bees. The agency granted a conditional registration to clothianidin in 2003, contingent on the submission of a field study establishing that the pesticide would have no unreasonable adverse effects on pollinators.
The field study was later submitted, but last year the agency found the study poorly designed and deficient. No other studies have been done to replace it, and the agency said pollinator field studies are limited in their utility.
The agency also said it evaluated clothianidin based on 34 scientific studies and that the chemical poses less risk to workers and wildlife than alternatives. While data show clothianidin is toxic to honeybees, the EPA says there’s no proven link to bee colony die-offs from exposure to the chemical.
Some researchers disagree. And while no one has been able to determine what causes colony collapse, most researchers point to a combination of factors, including pesticide contamination.
Use of clothianidin and other neonicotinoids is most worrisome, said Jim Frazier, professor of entomology at Penn State University, because the chemicals treat millions of acres of corn and other genetically modified plants throughout the U.S. Data show that the chemicals builds up over time in the soil, plants and trees, he said.
Frazier said studies have shown that clothianidin is toxic to bees. The pollen that bees take back to their colonies contains the chemical, as does the dust that comes off planters.
“The EPA admits that their testing has not been adequate to determine the impact of this chemical on bees and pollinators,” Frazier said, adding that while a direct link between clothianidin and colony collapse has not been established, more studies are needed.
Beekeeper Jeff Anderson of California Minnesota Honey Farms, a co-petitioner, said he believes clothianidin is weakening and killing his bees. Every year, he sees more bees die off when he stations them in Minnesota, especially when soy and corn treated with clothianidin are being planted.
“It’s a subtle long-term issue,” Anderson said. “It’s like giving bees AIDS. Their immune systems are down and all the pathogens and viruses become virulent. So the bees succumb much more readily.”
In recent years, Anderson said he lost over 30 percent of his bees during the winter and more during the rest of season.
Anderson, who has pollinated California’s almonds and cherries for more than 30 years, said he’s backing away from cherry pollination because the trees are sprayed with the chemical.
“They do it after we remove the bees, but the trees are retaining the chemical from one season to the next and creating a situation where the bloom is becoming toxic,” Anderson said.
Bayer CropScience recently announced the removal of almonds from the pesticide label for imidacloprid — another neonicotinoid — in California, thereby eliminating the use of the product in almond orchards, in response to concerns by the scientific community about the product’s impacts on honeybees.
Since 2006, U.S. honey bee populations have been in precipitous decline, with some estimates suggesting losses as high as 30% per year.1 While that’s terrible, the problem is far greater than just the loss of a species. Without bees, a big piece of our food supply is in serious danger. Pollination by honey bees is key in cultivating the crops that produce a full one-third of our food.
Scientists have been scrambling to understand the crisis â€” termed Colony Collapse Disorder â€” but have yet to find a single, definitive cause. There are likely multiple interacting causes, and mounting evidence suggests that one widely used class of pesticides may be a critical factor.
One such chemical, called clothianidin, is produced by the German corporation Bayer CropScience. It is used as a treatment on crop seeds, including corn and canola, and works by expressing itself in the plants’ pollen and nectar. Not coincidentally, these are honey bees’ favorite sources of food.
Shockingly, no major independent study has verified the safety of this pesticide. While clothianidin has been used on corn â€” the largest crop in the U.S. â€” since 2003, it was officially approved by the Environmental Protection Agency last year on the basis of a single study, conducted by Bayer. However, recently leaked documents show that the study was actually debunked by the agency’s own scientists, so the pesticide was effectively approved with no scientific backing.2
It is outrageous that the E.P.A. is putting a vital species, the livelihoods of farmers and beekeepers, and our very food supply at risk just so Bayer can peddle its pesticide. Click here to automatically sign the petition asking the E.P.A. to immediately issue a ban on clothianidin.
When clothianidin first came to market, there was little or no scientific review of its effect on the environment. The E.P.A. allowed “conditional registration” in 2003 but requested additional study to establish the safety of the chemical. Bayer, the producer of the chemical, conducted one such study, and without public notice, the E.P.A. granted unconditional use in early 2010.
But E.P.A. documents3 leaked at the end of last year expose a more sordid story. Agency scientists who reviewed Bayer’s study determined that the evidence was by no means sound, and even downgraded the study to a level at which it should not have been allowed as the basis for an unconditional approval of the pesticide.
Additional independent studies have shown that neonicotinoid pesticides like clothianidin are highly toxic to honey bees, providing compelling evidence that they should be immediately taken off the market until the E.P.A. can conduct a full and valid scientific review.
This appears to be a case of the E.P.A. catering to the needs of a large chemical corporation at the expense of a lynchpin species in our ecosystem. France, Italy, Slovenia, and Germany â€” the home of Bayer â€” have already banned clothianidin.
The stakes are simply too high to continue the use of this chemical in the absence of any scientifically verified evidence that it is safe to use. Click here to automatically sign the petition telling the E.P.A. to immediately prohibit the use of clothianidin and conduct a full scientific review to determine its impact on honey bee and other non-target populations.
Thank you for speaking out to protect the honey bees and our food supply.
Adam Klaus, Campaign Manager