U.S. Representative Markey Calls on EPA to Step Up Protections for Pollinators

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 24, 2012.  U.S. Representative Edward Markey, (D-MA) has sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging it to investigate a possible link between the use of common pesticides and reductions in honey bee populations. The letter comes as EPA is accepting public comments on a legal petition filed by beekeepers and environmental groups seeking to suspend the use of the neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin, which has been linked to serious pollinator health concerns.

In his letter to the EPA, Rep. Markey asks the agency to respond to questions, including:

•Has the EPA investigated the impacts of the class of pesticides on honey bees and other pollinators?
•What steps has EPA taken, and what more can the agency do, to limit or restrict the use of these pesticides and reduce the impact on bee populations?
•What steps is the EPA taking to ensure there is sufficient scientific evidence to make informed decisions about the impacts of neonicotinoids on bees and other pollinators?

Bee pollination contributes an estimated $15 billion to the agricultural economy. Yet, recent research has found that certain members of a group of related pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, may be jeopardizing bee populations and with them important food crops and jobs.

Neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid and thiamethoxam in addition to clothianidin, are highly toxic to a range of insects, including honey bees and other pollinators. They are particularly dangerous because, in addition to being acutely toxic in high doses, they also result in serious sublethal effects when insects are exposed to chronic low doses, as they are through pollen and water droplets laced with the chemical as well as dust that is released into the air when treated seeds that have been coated with the chemicals are planted. Previous research has shown that these effects cause significant problems for the health of individual honey bees as well as the overall health of honey bee colonies, including disruptions in mobility, navigation, feeding behavior, foraging activity, memory and learning, and overall hive activity.

“The proverb ‘No bees, no honey, no work, no money’ may become all too true if we don’t investigate the impact of pesticides on our valuable honeybee population,” said Rep. Markey. “Bees are vital to our nation’s economy and food security. I urge the EPA to look more closely at the impacts of these commonly used pesticides on the bee population, and I look forward to the agency’s response.” In his letter to the EPA, Rep. Markey notes that several other European countries, such as France, as well as the Canadian government, have already taken steps to restrict or re-examine the use of these harmful pesticides in an effort to protect bee populations.

Rep Markey’s letter comes on the heels of another recent letter drafted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and signed by Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that similarly calls on EPA to expedite its scheduled review of neonicotinoid pesticides in light of the recent concerns over the chemicals effects on pollinators. EPA is not expected to complete its review until 2018, and any implementation plans could take years beyond that to complete. Given that Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has decreased the U.S. bee population by 30 percent since 2006, the Senators urge a quicker timeframe, asking that it be completed by the end of next year.

The emergency legal petition to EPA was filed on March 21, 2012 and asked the agency to suspend all registrations for pesticides containing clothianidin. The petition, which is supported by over one million citizen petition signatures worldwide, targets the pesticide for its harmful impacts on honey bees. The legal petition establishes that EPA failed to follow its own regulations when it granted a conditional, or temporary, registration to clothianidin in 2003 without a required field study establishing that the pesticide would have no “unreasonable adverse effects” on pollinators. The granting of the conditional registration was contingent upon the subsequent submission of an acceptable field study, but this requirement has not been met. EPA continues to allow the use of clothianidin nine years after acknowledging that it had an insufficient legal basis for initially allowing its use. Additionally, the product labels on pesticides containing clothianidin are inadequate to prevent excessive damage to non-target organisms, which is a second violation of the requirements for using a pesticide and further warrants removing all such mislabeled pesticides from use.

Despite the growing body of scientific evidence linking pesticide chemicals to serious pollinator health issues, EPA last month denied an initial request by the petitioners that the agency immediately suspend the use of clothianidin due to the “imminent hazard” faced by bees, beekeepers, and the agricultural economy. EPA has announced that it is seeking public comment on the rest of the petition’s requests and will accept comments until September 25, 2012.

See Beyond Pesticides’ Pollinators page for more information on how pollinators are affected by pesticides and what you can do to help.

Sources: Office of Rep. Ed Markeyhttp://www.beyondpesticides.org

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