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Beekeepers Triumph Against Deadly Insecticide

What happened: Thanks to Earthjustice’s legal work, an insecticide linked to a nation-wide honey bee die-off remains banned in California.

After a California state agency approved the insecticide sulfoxaflor for use, Earthjustice successfully challenged the decision on behalf of commercial beekeepers in 2021. But industry and the state agency appealed the ruling to a higher court. Earlier this month, the state Court of Appeals dismissed that challenge, letting our win stand.

Why it matters: Rampant agricultural use of insecticides like sulfoxaflor over the past 20 years has contributed to the “insect apocalypse,” with honey bee colonies collapsing en masse. Most commercial bee colonies in the U.S. spend part of the year in California, so a ban on the pesticide in the state protects bees across the country.

The decision is welcome news not just for bees and other pollinators such as monarch butterflies that are harmed by sulfoxaflor, but for agriculture, our food security, and the wider ecosystems upon which we all depend. Earthjustice fights to sustain the biodiversity necessary for our planet to flourish, and this win is a step in the right direction.

Bees are in crisis.

  • Honey bee colony collapse represents a growing threat to agriculture and biodiversity with multiple root causes, including pesticides.
  • From April 2022 to April 2023, beekeepers in the U.S. lost an estimated 48.2% of their managed honey bee colonies. This is the second-highest annual loss on record.
  • This loss will reverberate through the food chain: About one-third of our food comes from plants that honeybees pollinate.

As a result of our legal victory, sulfoxaflor can’t be used in California.

  • In 2021, we won a lawsuit challenging the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s decision to approve sulfoxaflor for use in California.
  • Both the Department and sulfoxaflor’s manufacturer, Dow AgroSciences, appealed the trial court’s decision. Last week, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal making sulfoxaflor no longer legally usable.
  • Earthjustice is also representing the Pollinator Stewardship Council and the American Beekeeper Federation in a separate lawsuit targeting the EPA’s federal approval of sulfoxaflor in 2019.

Bee deaths from sulfoxaflor highlight the threat posed by neonicotinoid insecticides.

  • Sulfoxaflor belongs to a class of insecticides that also includes neonicotinoids. These chemicals are systemic, meaning they are absorbed by growing plants and persist in the plants’ tissues.
  • Bees are especially vulnerable to systemic pesticides, which can poison entire colonies of bees with tainted pollen and nectar.
  • California and other jurisdictions need to turn their attention to protecting pollinators from the entire class of systemic insecticides, including sulfoxaflor and neonicotinoids, that threaten our future.
  • Insecticides not only harm pollinators, but our food security and the wider ecosystems upon which we all depend. Earthjustice fights to sustain the biodiversity necessary for our planet to flourish.
A person in a beekeeper suit with bees flying around them under a blue sky.
Alyssa Anderson, a second-generation beekeeper, works with bee hives in a California orchard. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)