Does EPA know pesticides are killing honeybees?
August 20, 2008
Honeybees are extremely valuable, tireless little workers. According to USDA, they pollinate about one-third of all of the food we eat and pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value.
During the winter of 2006-2007, some beekeepers began to report unusually high losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. This phenomenon has been called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) because of its sudden onset.
What’s causing CCD? Theories range from cell phones to Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) and everything in between. But ask any beekeeper (I’ve talked with several) and they’ll point to what they say is the main culprit – pesticides.
The Natural Resources Defense Council thinks that may be the case as well. They’ve filed a lawsuit to see the studies that the EPA required when it approved a pesticide made by Bayer CropScience five years ago, studies the EPA is refusing to disclose.
The environmental group filed the suit as part of an effort to find out how diligently the EPA is protecting honeybees from dangerous pesticides, said Aaron Colangelo, a lawyer for the group in Washington.
EPA is responsible for evaluating all pesticides to ensure their use will not pose unreasonable adverse effects to man or the environment. As part of the evaluation process, EPA reviews standard bee toxicity data and, where warranted, may require additional testing. The Agency also requires labeling that contains both advisory and mandatory bee protection language to restrict the use of certain pesticides that are toxic to bees.
Clothianidin is the pesticide at the center of controversy. It is used to coat corn, sugar beet and sorghum seeds and is part of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. The pesticide was blamed for bee deaths in France and Germany. Both countries have suspended its use until further study. An EPA fact sheet from 2003 says clothianidin has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other pollinators, through residues in nectar and pollen.
The EPA granted conditional registration for clothianidin in 2003 and at the same time required that Bayer CropScience submit studies on chronic exposure to honeybees, including a complete worker bee lifecycle study as well as an evaluation of exposure and effects to the queen, the group said. The queen, necessary for a colony, lives a few years; the workers live only six weeks, but there is no honey without them.
“The public has no idea whether those studies have been submitted to the EPA or not and, if so, what they show. Maybe they never came in. Maybe they came in, and they show a real problem for bees. Maybe they’re poorly conducted studies that don’t satisfy EPA’s requirement,” Colangelo said.
On July 17, after getting no response from the EPA about securing the studies, the environmental group filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act, which requires the records within 20 business days absent unusual circumstances.
When the federal agency missed the August deadline, the group filed the lawsuit, asking the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to force the EPA to turn over the records.
Greg Coffey, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said controlled field studies have demonstrated that clothianidin, when used correctly, will not harm bees. He added that all of EPA’s requirements for conditional registration of clothianidin have been submitted to the agency.
An EPA spokesman, Dale Kemery, said the agency couldn’t comment on the documents required under the conditional registration because the matter is the subject of litigation.
What you can do:
The best action you can take to benefit honey bees is to not use pesticides indiscriminately, especially not to use pesticides at mid-day when honey bees are most likely to be out foraging for nectar.
In addition, you can plant and encourage the planting of good nectar sources such as red clover, foxglove, bee balm, and joe-pye weed.