Environmental and Farm Groups Support Beekeepers’ Challenge of Newest Bee-Toxic Pesticide

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 19, 2013.  Environmental and farm groups, including Beyond Pesticides, came together to file a legal brief in support of the nation’s major beekeeping associations’ lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The beekeepers, including the Pollinator Stewardship Council, American Honey Producers Association, National Honey Bee Advisory Board, and the American Beekeeping Federation, are requesting that a federal court vacate EPA’s decision to register sulfoxaflor, a new chemical known to be highly toxic to bees and considered in the same chemical class of the controversial insecticides known as neonicotinoids, which have been linked to bee decline.

According to the Friend of the Court (Amicus curiae) brief, filed by the Center for Food Safety on behalf of the organizations, “Scientists have linked the drastic declines in honey bee and other pollinator populations to systemic pesticides, and more specifically, to a category of systemic pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Sulfoxaflor is a systemic pesticide with the same mode of action as neonicotinoids, that EPA determined is ‘very highly toxic’ to bees. EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor will introduce yet another systemic and highly toxic insecticide into the environment, intensifying the ecological crises of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and other pollinator losses.”

The brief further explains that EPA failed to analyze sulfoxaflor’s impacts, particularly in light of the environmental stressors already faced by pollinator populations. “EPA’s decision considers only the alleged benefits of sulfoxaflor, while wholly ignoring the significant costs that registration will have on the agricultural economy, food security, and the environment,” the brief continued. “As such, EPA failed to show that the registration of sulfoxaflor will not cause any ‘unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.’”

In May 2013, EPA approved the full registration of sulfoxaflor, which the agency classifies as highly toxic to honey bees, despite warnings and concerns raised by beekeepers and environmental groups that sulfoxaflor will further endanger bees and beekeeping. Several comments were submitted to EPA by concerned beekeepers and environmental advocacy groups, including Beyond Pesticides, stating that approval of a pesticide highly toxic to bees would only exacerbate the problems faced by an already tenuous honey bee industry and further decimate bee populations. EPA, however, dismissed these concerns and instead pointed to a need for sulfoxaflor by industry and agriculture groups to control insects no longer being controlled by increasingly ineffective pesticide technologies.

Not satisfied that their concerns were properly addressed by EPA before sulfoxaflor’s registration was granted, beekeepers filed suit in July 2013 against EPA to reverse the registration decision. This suit comes as the beekeeping industry across the country continues to struggle for survival, and faces the costly effects of pesticides upon their businesses. The beekeepers’ case, filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco by Earthjustice, is Pollinator Stewardship Council et al. v. U.S. EPA  (Case No. 13-72346).

In March 2013, Center for Food Safety filed a separate groundbreaking lawsuit over two neonicotinoid pesticides – clothianidin and thiamethoxam, allowed in the U.S. despite growing evidence of their harm to bees and increasing action against them in other countries. This lawsuit challenges the agency’s failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides, and seeks suspension of the two neonicotinoid insecticides, which 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.

Beekeepers have experienced honey bee losses of over 40 percent over the 2012/2013 winter period, with some beekeepers reporting losses of over 70 percent, far exceeding the normal rate of 10 to15 percent. Some have even been driven out of business. Current estimates of the number of surviving hives in the U.S. show that these colonies may not be able to meet the future pollination demands of agricultural crops. Given the global phenomenon of bee decline and the recent precautions taken in the European Union regarding bee health with the two-year suspension of neonicotinoid pesticides known to be highly toxic to bees, environmental and farm groups believe it is irresponsible of EPA to allow yet another chemical that is a high potential hazard to bee health into the environment.

The following groups joined in support of the Friend of the Court brief:  Beyond Pesticides; Center for Food Safety; Center for Environmental Health; Defenders of Wildlife; Friends of the Earth; Maine Organic Gardeners and Farmers Association; Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service; National Family Farm Coalition; Northeast Organic Farming Association, Interstate Council; Northeast Organic Farming Association, Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.; Northeast Organic Farming Association, New York Chapter, Inc.; Northeast Organic Farming Association, Rhode Island Chapter, Inc.; Pesticide Action Network of North America; Sierra Club.

Bee Protective: For additional information on what you can do to protect pollinators, visit Beyond Pesticides Bee Protective webpage.

Sources: Center for Food Safety, http://www.beyondpesticides.org

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.