One of the GOP’s favorite targets is over-regulation, but when you look at the agencies in charge of regulating, they often have to be sued to do their jobs.
EPA’s new rules that limit soot, mercury and other toxics, for example, were issued after being postponed for decades (due to industry pressure) that finally resulted in lawsuits. Seven states plan to sue because the EPA did not regulate methane emissions as part of air quality rules for the natural gas industry.
Now, EPA is being taken to court again, this time because the agency refuses to outlaw pesticides that are strongly correlated with Colony Collapse Disorder in bees.
A coalition of beekeepers, environmental and consumer groups filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the EPA for its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides.
Represented by attorneys for the Center for Food Safety, the lawsuit seeks suspension of the registrations of insecticides that 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 known as colony collapse disorder. The suit challenges EPA’s ongoing handling of the pesticides as well as the agency’s practice of "conditional registration" and labeling deficiencies.
The suit comes on the heels of a challenging season for California’s almond farmers, who produce 80% of the world’s almonds. Almond growers rely on beekeepers to bring literally billions of bees from across the country to pollinate their orchards. However, many beekeepers are reporting losses of over 50% this year and the shortages have left many California almond growers without enough bees to effectively pollinate their trees. This is a vivid demonstration of why the Plaintiffs are demanding EPA to classify these bee-toxic pesticides as an "imminent hazard" and move swiftly to restrict their use.
The pesticides involved – clothianidin and thiamethoxam – are "neonicotinoids," a newer class of systemic insecticides that are absorbed by plants and transported throughout the plant’s vascular tissue, making the plant potentially toxic to insects. Clothianidin and thiamethoxam first came into heavy use in the mid-2000s, at the same time beekeepers started observing widespread cases of colony losses, leaving beekeepers unable to recoup their losses.
Imidacloprid, another neonicotinoid, and clothianidin are made by Bayer, and thiamethoxam is made by Syngenta.
The case also challenges the use of so-called "conditional registrations" for these pesticides, which expedites commercialization by bypassing meaningful premarket review. Since 2000, over two-thirds of pesticide products, including clothianidin and thiamethoxam, have been brought to market as conditional registrations.
"Pesticide manufacturers use conditional registrations to rush bee-toxic products to market, with little public oversight," said Paul Towers from the Pesticide Action Network. "As new independent research comes to light, the agency has been slow to re-evaluate pesticide products and its process, leaving bees exposed to an ever-growing load of hazardous pesticides."
In addition, the plaintiffs challenge the inadequacies of existing pesticide labels meant to ensure environmental and health protections. "EPA has ignored its responsibility to protect bees by allowing impractical labels and lax enforcement," says Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides. "Despite clear evidence and on-the-ground feedback to the contrary, EPA has failed to ensure that bees, birds and ecosystems are protected."
Independent scientists have assessed the effects of clothianidin and thiamethoxam on honey bee colony health and development, examining both sub-lethal exposure effects and acute risks. Scientists have also identified massive data gaps that prevent accurate assessments as to their continued safety, not just for honey bees but for ecosystem integrity on the whole. A major new report issued this week by the American Bird Conservancy, The Impact of the Nation’s Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds, sounds dire warnings about EPA’s failures to assess threats to birds and to the aquatic ecosystems many species depend upon.
Plaintiffs include four beekeepers, Steve Ellis of Old Mill Honey Co. (MN, CA), Jim Doan of Doan Family Farms (NY), Tom Theobald of Niwot Honey Farm (CO) and Bill Rhodes of Bill Rhodes Honey (FL) as well as Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, Sierra Club, and the Center for Environmental Health.
A recent vote in Europe also continues to allow the use of these pesticides.
While 13 European Union member states voted to ban Neonicotinoids, nine countries voted against the ban and five abstained, including Britain. Because the votes are weighted based on a country’s population, the vote was tabled since it didn’t get a majority.
Another vote is planned soon.
In January, the European Food Safety Authority released a report concluding that these pesticides pose a high risk to bee health, which led to the vote.
The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee just released a report showing that honey bee populations are down by two-thirds.
"We believe that the weight of scientific evidence now warrants precautionary action, so we are calling for a moratorium on pesticides linked to bee decline to be introduced by 1 January next year," chair Joan Walley told Reuters.
"There is a consensus to stop the damage now, but the pesticides industry and a minority of member states don’t care about the environmental damage and want to prevaricate by pushing for never-ending research projects," Matt Shardlow, who heads Buglife, told The Independent.
"At the very least, the formal vote of all the EU countries means that the issue of neonicotinoids and bee health, which was shrouded in obscurity until fairly recently, is now rising to the top of the international political agenda," says The Independent.
Knowing their products will likely be banned, Syngenta and Bayer are proposing another approach – plant more wildflowers on the periphery of farms to provide habitat for bees, while monitoring the effects of neonicotinoids and doing more research on the impact of parasites and viruses, which also contribute to the decline of bee populations.
"This comprehensive plan will bring valuable insights into the area of bee health, whereas a ban on neonicotinoids would simply close the door to understanding the problem," says John Atkin, COO of Syngenta.
Neonicotinoids are sprayed on over 8 million hectares in Europe to increase the yields of a variety of crops, such as wheat.