Friday, March 22, 2013

Groups Sue EPA For Failing To Protect Bees From Pesticides

Mar 21: One year after groups formally petitioned the U.S. EPA, four beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the Agency for its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides. The coalition, represented by attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), 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 (CCD) [See WIMS 4/4/07]. The suit challenges EPA's ongoing handling of the pesticides as well as the agency's practice of "conditional registration" and labeling deficiencies.
        In March 2012, CFS and a coalition of prominent beekeepers, along with Pesticide Action Network and Beyond Pesticides filed an Emergency Petition with the EPA asking the agency to suspend the use of clothianidin. Yet, a year later, the agency has refused and indicated it will not finish its Registration Review for clothianidin and thiamethoxam, as well as other neonicotinoids, until 2018. 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.

    One plaintiff Steve Ellis, a Minnesota and California beekeeper said, "America's beekeepers cannot survive for long with the toxic environment EPA has supported. Bee-toxic pesticides in dozens of widely used products, on top of many other stresses our industry faces, are killing our bees and threatening our livelihoods. Our country depends on bees for crop pollination and honey production. It's time for EPA to recognize the value of bees to our food system and agricultural economy."

    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.

    According to a release, 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.
    CFS attorney Peter Jenkins said, "Beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups have demonstrated time and time again over the last several years that EPA needs to protect bees. The agency has refused, so we've been compelled to sue. EPA's unlawful actions should convince the Court to suspend the approvals for clothianidin and thiamethoxam products until those violations are resolved."

    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. Paul Towers, a spokesperson for Pesticide Action Network said, "
Pesticide manufacturers use conditional registrations to rush bee-toxic products to market, with little public oversight. 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. Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides said, "EPA has ignored its responsibility to protect bees by allowing impractical labels and lax enforcement. 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.
    On March 19, 2013, as part of a study on impacts from the world's most widely used class of insecticides, nicotine-like chemicals called neonicotinoids, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) announced that it has called for a ban on their use as seed treatments and for the suspension of all applications pending an independent review of the products' effects on birds, terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife. Cynthia Palmer, co-author of the report and Pesticides Program Manager for ABC, one of the nation's leading bird conservation organizations said, "It is clear that these chemicals have the potential to affect entire food chains. The environmental persistence of the neonicotinoids, their propensity for runoff and for groundwater infiltration, and their cumulative and largely irreversible mode of action in invertebrates raise significant environmental concerns."
    ABC commissioned world renowned environmental toxicologist Dr. Pierre Mineau to conduct the research. The 100-page report, "The Impact of the Nation's Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds," reviews 200 studies on neonicotinoids including industry research obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act. The report evaluates the toxicological risk to birds and aquatic systems and includes extensive comparisons with the older pesticides that the neonicotinoids have replaced. The assessment concludes that the neonicotinoids are lethal to birds and to the aquatic systems on which they depend.

    Access a release from the groups and beekeepers (click here). Access the 48-page emergency petition filed one year ago (click here). Access a lengthy release from ABC with additional details (click here). Access the ABC report (click here). Access additional WIMS coverage on CCD (click here). [#Toxics, #Wildlife]
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