EPA backs away from protecting pollinators

Biologists have been trying to figure out why bee colonies are in decline, and the latest research is pointing directly to pesticides as the main cause. Click the pic to learn more.
Bees are taking a big hit from neonicotinoid pesticides, and the EPA isn’t going to be much help. @bberwyn photo.

Proposed restrictions become voluntary guidelines

Staff Report

Multiple studies have shown that neonicotinoid pesticides are having all sorts of negative impacts on bees, from killing their brain cells, to causing queen bees to lay fewer eggs. Now, the EPA has acknowledged that science, but is still failing to take action to protect critical pollinators, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The nonprofit watchdog group says the EPA is giving in to industry pressure by failing to restrict use of the dangerous pesticides, “despite broad evidence of their well-established role in alarming declines of pollinators.”

The new information released by the EPA shows that honeybees can be harmed by the widely-used pesticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam and dinetofuran. The agency also released today an updated assessment for a fourth leading neonicotinoid — imidacloprid — showing that in addition to harms to pollinators identified last year, the pesticide can also harm aquatic insects.

But at the same time, the EPA backed away from a proposed rule to place limited restrictions on use of the bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides when commercial honeybees are present in a field. Instead, the agency announced voluntary guidelines that impose no mandatory use restrictions.

“It’s outrageous that on the same day the EPA acknowledged these dangerous pesticides are killing bees it also reversed course on mandating restrictions on their use,” said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Environmental Health program. “This is like a doctor diagnosing your illness but then deciding to withhold the medicine you need to cure it.”

Systemic neonicotinoid insecticides cause entire plants, including their pollen and nectar, to become toxic to pollinators. These chemicals are also slow to break down, and they build up in soil, where they pose an especially grave threat to thousands of species of ground-nesting native bees. In November the largest and most comprehensive ever global assessment of pollinators found that 40 percent of pollinating insects are threatened with extinction, naming neonicotinoids as a significant driver of wild pollinator declines.

“The new policy does virtually nothing to protect America’s thousands of declining native bee species or to curb the escalating use of these harmful neonicotinoid pesticides across hundreds of millions of acres in the United States,” said Burd. “It’s shocking that the EPA’s response to the crisis of declining pollinators and the abundant science linking that decline to neonicotinoid insecticides is to meekly offer a policy encouraging industry to consider restricting pesticide use in limited situations where plants are blooming while commercial honeybees have been brought in to work the fields. This is a rejection of science that should be deeply troubling to all Americans as we move into a Trump administration.”

Neonicotinoids have already been banned by the European Union, and in 2016 they were banned on all U.S. national wildlife refuges due to their harmful impacts on wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Canada has also proposed a ban on a neonicotinoid because of its unacceptable threats.

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