The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued by several environmental groups and beekeepers over the continued use of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids.
They accuse the EPA of failing to protect pollinators from these products, and
are demanding the suspension of both clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which are two neonicotinoid products they claim are particularly toxic
lawsuit against the EPA says that the agency has allowed pesticide
manufacturers to use conditional registrations to move neonicotinoids to market
quickly and with lax oversight. In addition, groups behind the lawsuit claim
that the agency has been slow to re-evaluate neonicotinoids as research has increasingly
indicated that they harm bees.
recently, research published by a team led by the University of Dundeeâ€™s Christopher
Connolly found that neonicotinoids
impair the ability of bees to learn.1This can cut honey bee
survival rates as it disrupts the insectsâ€™ ability to find food.
which are absorbed by plants and therefore can be present in pollen and nectar,
have been recognised as a major cause of a phenomenon, known as colony collapse
disorder (CCD), devastating bee populations in recent years.
A serious problem
Department of Agriculture (USDA) describes CCD as a â€˜very serious problem for
beekeepersâ€™. The agency says annual bee losses from the winters of
2006 to 2011 averaged about a third annually, of which a third was attributed to CCD. Some
larger non-migratory beekeepers in the mid-Atlantic and Pacific Northwest
regions of the US reported losses of more than 50%. In the winter of 2011â€“2012
however, total losses dropped to 22%.
US, honeybees are essential for the cultivation of about $15 billion (Â£10
billion) worth of crops annually, according the USDA agricultural research
service. CCD is being blamed for the California almond farmersâ€™ recent tough
season. These farmers produce 80% of the worldâ€™s almonds, and they rely on bees
to pollinate their orchards.
itâ€™s not just almonds â€“ Californiaâ€™s second largest cash crop, worth an
estimated $3.8 billion â€“ that have been decimated by the disappearance of the
bees. There are more than 40 crops grown in the US that need bees, including
apples, blueberries, broccoli and cotton.
not looking particularly good for pollinator health,â€™ says Jeffery Pettis, lead bee
researcher at the USDA. Although he says there is scientific evidence of harm
to bees from neonicotinoids, especially for smaller colonies like bumble bees,
Pettis argues against an outright ban.
Europe considers two-year ban
you ban them what would be the alternative and would that be more toxic?â€™
Pettis asks. He advocates a compromise that limits neonicotinoid use on crops
that are highly attractive to bees.
regulatory landscape for neonicotinoids varies considerably between the US and
Europe. While the EPA is seen to be dragging its feet, Europe is
considering a two-year ban on the use of
three widely used neonicotinoids â€“ imidacloprid,
clothianidin and thiametoxam â€“ on crops that attract bees.
products would not save a single hiveâ€™
Earlier this month, the European commissionâ€™s food
chain and animal health committee failed to reach a conclusive vote on the
proposal. While 13 member states voted for the ban, five abstained and nine
voted against. On 19 March, the commission announced that it will refer the
proposal to the appeal committee.
in January, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) issued a report
highlighting several risks posed to bees by the three neonicotinoid insecticides in question. The report cited
â€˜the importance of bees in the ecosystem and the food chainâ€™ and stated that
clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam should only be used â€˜on crops not
attractive to honey beesâ€™.
that EFSA report was released, neonicotinoid manufacturer Syngenta
argued its assessment was
based on â€˜unrealistic and excessiveâ€™ seed planting rates between two and four
times higher than would be used under modern agricultural practice. Had the
agency used normal sowing rates, the company argued, it would have concluded
that the risk to bees is â€˜extremely lowâ€™.
European countries have already taken action. Partial bans are in place on some
neonicotinoids for specific crops in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia.
Syngenta and Bayer CropScience, which make the pesticides, both oppose
neonicotinoid bans. â€˜Banning these products would not save a single hive and it
is time that everyone focused on addressing the real causes of declining bee
populations,â€™ John Atkin, Syngentaâ€™s chief
operating officer, said in a
evidence points to various parasites and diseases being the true cause of poor
bee health, added RÃ¼diger
Scheitza, head of strategy and business management at Bayer CropScience.
that joint announcement, the two companies proposed a plan to help resolve the
disagreement between the European commission and the member states on
neonicotinoids. Their strategy includes significantly scaling up the creation
of pollen rich, flowering field margins across the EU for bees, as well as
establishing a comprehensive field monitoring programme for bee health.
Chensheng Lu, an environmental
exposure researcher at Harvard University, US, says it is unlikely that
neonicotinoids will be banned in the US in the near future as other pesticides
like organophosphates (OP) and organochlorines were. â€˜Ecological and human
health data on neonicotinoids essentially doesnâ€™t exist,â€™ states Lu, who was
lead author on a study released in April 2012 that concluded imidacloprid is the
likely culprit in the sharp worldwide
declines seen in honeybee colonies since 2006.2
US, the EPA has already banned residential uses of organophosphate insecticides
like chlorpyrifosand diazinon over health concerns in humans and
wildlife. The agency has also sharply curtailed the availability of many
organochlorines, particularly DDT and aldrin.
organophosphates and organochlorines, thereâ€™s lots of data to support the
regulatory decision,â€™ Lu says. In contrast, he tells Chemistry World that
the amount of data presently available on neonicotinoids is â€˜inadequateâ€™ to
convince the EPA to take regulatory action.
predicts that it will take more than a decade for the US government to ban or
restrict neonicotinoids. â€˜After the OP and the pest resistant-prone
pyrethroids, there is only neonicotinoids left for use,â€™ he suggests.
Death link questioned
the UK Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) recently found â€˜no consistent relationshipsâ€™ between neonicotinoid
residues in pollen and nectar and bumble bee colony mass. The authors found
there was no conclusive evidence that exposure to neonicotinoids at normal
agricultural levels had major effects on these colonies.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) followed this up
with a related assessment
of key research in the field. This concluded that â€˜the risk to bee populations from neonicotinoids,
as they are currently used, is lowâ€™.
this morning, a cross party group of MPs from the UK parliamentâ€™s environmental
watchdog dismissed Defraâ€™s approach to the health of bee populations as
â€˜extraordinarily complacentâ€™. The environmental audit committee urged the
government to introduce a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on
flowering crops attractive to pollinators.Â Joan Walley MP, chair of the
committee, said: â€˜We believe that the weight of scientific evidence now
warrants precautionary action, so we are calling for a moratorium on pesticides
linked to bee decline to be introduced by 1 January next year.â€™
National Farmers Union (NFU) and others, however, are arguing that Defraâ€™s research shows that there are still â€˜significant question
marksâ€™ over the science of neonicotinoids and CCD. NFU spokesman Chris
Hartfield described it as â€˜one of several field studies showing that these harmful
effects on bees are not seen under normal field situationsâ€™.