The bees will live to fight another day thanks to a September federal court ruling against the EPA.
On Thursday September 10th, a federal appeals court dealt a huge blow to the pesticide industry by issuing a ruling that blocks the use of a controversial pesticide believed to be causing harm to honey bees.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) insufficiently tested the pesticide sulfoxaflor before approving its use in 2013. Sulfoxaflor is a type of insecticide known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, which are used on citrus and cotton crops. Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder stated the EPA should have done further research once initial studies showed sulfoxaflor was highly toxic to honey bees.
“In this case, given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it,” she wrote.
The lawsuit against the EPA was brought forth by Earthjustice, which represents a coalition of commercial beekeeping trade groups as well as individual commercial beekeepers. The coalition included the Pollinator Stewardship Council, the National Honeybee Advisory Board, the American Honey Producers Association, the American Beekeeping Federation, and beekeepers Jeff Anderson, Rick Smith, and Brett Adee.
Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice, said, “We’re certainly extremely happy. It means that sulfoxaflor comes off the market while the EPA does the work it should have done a long time ago.“
EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen told the AP that the agency is reviewing the decision but had no further comment.
Loarie also discussed the dangers of what has come to be known as “Colony Collapse Disorder” — where entire colonies of bees die off with no obvious cause. “Our country is facing widespread bee colony collapse, and scientists are pointing to pesticides like sulfoxaflor as the cause,” Loarie wrote. “The Court’s decision to overturn approval of this bee-killing pesticide is incredible news for bees, beekeepers, and all of us.”
The “neonics” are a class of pesticides that have previously been linked to declines in bee populations. They were developed in 1991, and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Around 2006, commercial beekeepers began reporting colony collapse disorder. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world. Several studies have implicated neonics, which are used to kill insects harmful to crops.
During a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, Loarie discussed the importance of the ruling with Reddit users. One commenter asked, “What can the average person do to help bees?”
“First off, when buying ornamental plants for your home garden, make sure that they don’t come pre-treated with neonics,” the attorney wrote. “Unfortunately, many big nurseries are still selling flowers that are sprayed with neonics.”
Home improvement store Lowe’s stopped selling the pesticide for consumer use earlier this year, while Home Depot voluntarily labels plants sold at its stores that are treated with neonics.
The court’s decision is not the first time neonics have come under fire.
In May, TruthInMedia reported that 25 organizations representing farmworkers, environmental groups, and food safety organizations sent a letter to officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency calling for an investigation into claims that scientists are facing pressure and retaliation for research that presents the controversial neonicotinoid insecticide in a negative light.
The groups say they are concerned with a report from Reuters detailing threats to scientists who speak out about the dangers of the pesticides. These threats include suspension without pay and threats of damage to careers. The scientists filed a petition in March asking for more protection:
“The action filed on Thursday by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group for local, state, and federal researchers, came less than a week after a World Health Organization group found the active ingredient in Roundup, the world’s best selling weed killer, is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.‘” Roundup is made by Monsanto. The petition to the USDA presses the agency to adopt policies to prevent “’political suppression or alteration of studies and to lay out clear procedures for investigating allegations of scientific misconduct.‘”
PEER executive director Jeff Ruch told Common Dreams that the petition was “based on the experiences of 10 USDA scientists” who allegedly faced backlash for research on neonicotinoid insecticides and glyphosate — an ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide — as well as other topics, including genetically modified crops.
The letter to the EPA and USDA expressed deep concern about the effects of the pesticide on animals and the environment:
“Bees, butterflies, birds, and other critical pollinators are in great peril and populations are dwindling worldwide. A growing body of scientific evidence has implicated neonicotinoids as a leading driver of bee declines and glyphosate as a leading driver of the destruction of milkweed, the sole food source for monarch butterflies. Recently, the World Health Organization’s research arm, the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC), updated its cancer determination for glyphosate, categorizing it as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2A) after reviewing scientific research from 17 of the world’s top oncology experts from 11 countries.”
A 2014 study published in the journal Nature found a strong correlation between pesticides measured in surface freshwater and lower population growth rates of 14 species of birds in the Netherlands. The study suggests the bird population may be drinking infected water or feeding their offspring infected insects.
The researchers studied two long-term environmental monitoring databases and found that when the neonic levels were the highest, the bird populations declined by 3.5 percent. Other causes, such as changes in land use (which has been suspected as the leading cause of population decline in Europe), were considered. However, these did not correlate as strongly as the pesticide levels. Study co-author Ruud Foppen said that although the correlations are very convincing, they are only correlations and cannot yet be deemed the cause of the bird population deaths.
More recently, Swedish scientists conducted a study of neonics in the wild — the first of its kind. They examined 16 patches of land with canola seeds, comparing half of them — which were sprayed with the pesticide — to the other half, which were not sprayed. The researchers found that wild bees displayed negative health effects while honeybee populations, which pollinate crops with assistance from humans, did not display the illness. A second study found that in laboratory tests, bees are not deterred by the pesticide but may in fact prefer crops sprayed with the chemicals. This could indicate an addiction to the nicotine in the pesticides. Both studies were published in the journal Nature.
The study’s lead author, Maj Rundlof, said the reduction in bee health was “more dramatic than I ever expected.” Rundlof told Reuters that the bees sprayed with the pesticide also had not gained any significant weight when compared to the normal colonies.
The scientists in the letter question the transparency and accountability of the USDA.
“If the USDA is censoring and suppressing its own scientists who are calling into question the hazards of these dangerous pesticides, how can the USDA be expected to co-chair this task force and develop a meaningful federal strategy that will truly protect bees, birds, monarchs and other critical pollinators and not a strategy that only protects the profits of the pesticide industry?” they asked.
The questions they are asking are extremely important. All Americans should follow their lead and question corruption in all levels of government.
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