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Beekeeping Industry Sues EPA for Approval of Bee-Killing Pesticide

Beekeeping industry not satisfied their submitted concerns were properly addressed by EPA before pesticide approval was granted
July 8, 2013
San Francisco, CA —

National beekeeping organizations along with the National Honey Bee Advisory Board have come together in an attempt to protect the bee industry by an appeal against EPA for its approval of the pesticide Sulfoxaflor, shown to be “highly toxic” to honey bees, and other insect pollinators. Sulfoxaflor is a new chemistry, and the first of a newly assigned sub-class of pesticides in the “neonicotinoid” class of pesticides, which some scientists across the globe have linked as a potential factor to widespread and massive bee colony collapse. The case is filed as the beekeeping industry across the country struggles for survival, and faces the costly effects of pesticides upon their businesses.

The Pollinator Stewardship Council (formerly National Pollinator Defense Fund), American Honey Producers Association, National Honey Bee Advisory Board, the American Beekeeping Federation, and beekeepers Bret Adee, Jeff Anderson and Thomas R. Smith have filed an appeal against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, requesting changes needed in the Sulfoxaflor label, the Biological Economic Assessment Division (BEAD) assessment of the value of pollinators and their established habits, and the EPA’s Risk Assessment Process. These changes would acknowledge pollinator’s critical role in the U.S. food supply, and ensure that decisions regarding new pesticides comply with applicable laws.

Sulfoxaflor was granted a full registration by EPA for most crops, many of which require pollinators. Many other registered crops are utilized by pollinators, including honey bees, as forage. Based on the approved registration, pollinators, especially honey bees, may potentially be exposed numerous times by labelled Sulfoxaflor applications as honey bees are moved across the country to pollinate crops, produce the nation’s supply of honey, and recuperate from the rigors of pollination.

The groups are being represented by the public interest law organization Earthjustice. The appeal process through the courts is the only mechanism open to challenge EPA’s decision; it is commonly used by commodity groups to rectify inadequate pesticide labeling.

The following are their statements:

Attorney Janette Brimmer of Earthjustice: “Our country is facing widespread bee colony collapse, and scientists are pointing to pesticides like Sulfoxaflar as the cause. The effects will be devastating to our nation’s food supply and also to the beekeeping industry, which is struggling because of toxic pesticides. This lawsuit against the EPA is attempt by the beekeepers to save their suffering industry. The EPA has failed them. And the EPA’s failure to adequately consider impacts to pollinators from these new pesticides is wreaking havoc on an important agricultural industry and gives short shrift to the requirements of the law.”

Jeff Anderson, beekeeper: “EPA’s approval of Sulfoxaflor with no enforceable label protections for bees will speed our industry’s demise. EPA is charged under FIFRA with protecting non-target beneficial insects, not just honeybees. EPA’s Sulfoxaflor registration press release says, ‘… the final label includes robust terms for protecting pollinators …’ This is a bold-faced lie! There is absolutely no mandatory language on the label that protects pollinators. Further, the label’s advisory language leads spray applicators to believe that notifying a beekeeper of a planned application, absolves them of their legal responsibility in FIFRA to not kill pollinators.”

Bret Adee, President of the Board of the Pollinator Stewardship Council: “The EPA is charged with preventing unreasonable risk to our livestock, our livelihoods, and most importantly, the nation’s food supply. This situation requires an immediate correction from the EPA to ensure the survival of commercial pollinators, native pollinators, and the plentiful supply of seed, fruits, vegetables, and nuts that pollinators make possible.”

Randy Verhoek, President of the Board of the American Honey Producers Association: “The bee industry has had to absorb an unreasonable amount of damage in the last decade. Projected losses for our industry this year alone are over $337 million. While not all of the losses are due solely to pesticides, there are strong correlations between pesticide misuse killing bees and impairing colony performance.”

George Hansen, President of the Board of the American Beekeeping Federation: “The honey bee industry is very concerned since the EPA has failed to adequately address our comments about realistic risk to pollinators posed by sulfoxaflor. The EPA continues to use flawed and outdated assessments of long term and sub-lethal damage to honey bees."

Rick Smith, beekeeper and farmer: “The beekeeping industry has proactively engaged EPA to address concerns for many years. The industry is seriously concerned the comments it submitted during the Sulfoxaflor registration comment period were not adequately addressed before EPA granted full registration. The sun is now rising on a day where pollinators are no longer plentiful. They require protection 365 days a year in order to be abundant at the critical moment their pollination service is required by the plant. Applying pesticides in a manner which does not expose pollinators during the period a pesticide is acutely toxic, and, knowing sub-lethal and delayed effects, are the cornerstones in their protection. EPA’s assessment process has chosen not to use long established and accepted published information concerning pollinator foraging habits in the Environment Hazards Section of the Sulfoxaflor label.”

Sulfoxaflor Fact Sheet

  • Chemical name: Sulfoxaflor; cyanamide, N-[methyloxido[1-[6-(trifluoromethyl)-3-pyridinyl]ethyl] λ4 –sulfanylidene]
  • IRAC MoA Classification: Group 4C: nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonists, sulfoxamines
  • Mode of Action: Sulfoxaflor is an insecticide that acts through a unique interaction with the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in insects. While Sulfoxaflor acts on the same receptor as the neonicotinoids, it is classified as its own subgroup (4C). It is an agonist of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) and exhibits excitatory responses including tremors, followed by paralysis and mortality in target insects. The structure of Sulfoxaflor makes it stable in the presence of monooxygenase enzyme that was shown to degrade a variety of neonicotinoids in IRAC Group 4A, resulting in a lack of cross-resistance demonstrated in laboratory experiments.
  • Registrant: DOW AgroSciences LLC
  • Proposed products: Sulfoxaflor is being registered as EPA Reg. 62719-631 (Sulfoxaflor Technical), 62719-625 (Transform WG), and EPA Reg. 62719-623 (Closer SC).
    Methods of application include aerial and ground broadcast, in addition to chemigation for potato.
  • Additional background information from the Pollinator Stewardship Council:
    Sulfoxaflor has the same constellation of properties as many other systemic insecticides that have been shown to cause acute and sub-lethal effects, including:

    1. High acute toxicity to bees.
    2. Sufficient water solubility to permit systemic uptake by the plant, and be expressed in pollen and nectar, as indicated by some of the studies the EPA evaluated.
    3. Sufficient persistence in the environment that would permit pollinator exposures from ingestion of nectar and pollen from treated plants.

The EPA is required by FIFRA to determine that a pesticide does not pose an unreasonable risk to the environment or to economic interests such as that of the bee industry.

The EPA’s testing did not adequately examine the impact of acute and sub-lethal poisoning of adult honey bees, brood, bee life span, in light the dynamics of the colony organism. The EPA’s reviewed research and analysis of bee foraging behavior and habits is being questioned based on long accepted publications; the Agency lacked the necessary data on how Sulfoxaflor remains systemically absorbed in the crop tissue, and how that may harm bees and bee colonies long term subjected to levels below the lethal toxicity level to adult bees; and the EPA failed entirely to look at how differing amounts of pesticides affect pollinators over time.

Bee kills since March 2013 as reported to the Pollinator Stewardship Council:

  • Florida: 1300 hives
  • Minnesota: 2312 hives
  • Utah: 630 hives
  • New York: 300 hives

Since 2006 an estimated 10 million bee hives at an approximate current value of $200 each have been lost and the total replacement cost of $2 billion dollars has been borne by the beekeepers alone (J. Frazier, unpublished).
(Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee health, USDA and EPA, report released May 2, 2013, page 1.)

“Annually for example in the United States between $20 billion and $30 billion, that’s B, billion with B dollars of our agricultural production is dependent on pollination.” Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, Director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
(Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health by USDA and EPA, May 2, 2013, WITS-USDA Office of Communication, page 3.)

“California agriculture reaps $937 million to $2.4 billion per year in economic value from wild, free-living bee species …” “About one-third of the value of California agriculture comes from pollinator-dependent crops, representing a net value of $11.7 billion per year… However, the new study estimated that wild pollinators residing in California’s natural habitats, chiefly rangelands, provide 35–39 percent, or more than one-third, of all pollination “services” to the state’s crops.”
(Wild Pollinators worth up to $2.4 billion to farmers, Ann Brody Guy, College of Natural Resources at Berkeley, 6-20-2011, http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2011/06/20/wild-pollinators-worth-billions-to-farmers)

“For fruit and nut crops, pollination can be a grower’s only real chance to increase yield. The extent of pollination dictates the maximum number of fruits. Post-pollination inputs, whether growth regulators, pesticides, water, or fertilizer, are actually designed to prevent losses and preserve quality rather than increase yield.”
(Bee Benefits to Agriculture, Kevin J. Hackett, ARS National Program Leader, 3-2004, Forum.)

“When honey bees interact with wild native bees, they are up to five times more efficient in pollinating sunflowers than when native bees are not present …” “ In fields where wild bees were rare, a single visit by a honey bee produced an average of three seeds. But as wild bee numbers increased, so did the number of seeds produced per honey bee visit, up to an average of 15 seeds per visit … by provoking honey bees to alter their behavior, wild bees were indirectly responsible for an additional 40 percent of the pollination. Honey bees on their own provided just 53% of the pollination.”
(Wild bees make honey bees better pollinators, Liese Greensfelder, UC Berkeley news release (Study author was Sarah Greenleaf, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences issue on Sept. 12, 2006 an EPA funded study), 8-28-2006, http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2006/08/28_honeybees.shtml.)

“The researchers estimate that up to 40 percent of some essential nutrients provided by fruits and vegetables could be lost without pollinators.”
(NCEAS working group produces study showing how vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables depend on pollinators, National Center for ecological Analysis and Synthesis, 6-22-2011, http://ia.ucsb.edu (Univ. of Calif .Santa Barbara news release))

Contacts

Michele Colopy, Pollinator Stewardship Council, (832) 727-9492

Liz Judge, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2007

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.