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.
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.