International Scrutiny of Pesticide Link to Honey Bee Deaths Intensifies

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–June 25, 2012.  The Canadian governmental authority responsible for pesticide registration has expanded its re-evaluation of neonicotinoid pesticides to include two additional compounds linked to honey bee deaths and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) announced on June 12 that it has added clothianidin and thiamethoxam and their associated products to its ongoing re-evaluation of imidacloprid. The re-evaluation of these pesticides will focus on resolving issues related to environmental risk and specifically the potential effects of neonicotinoids on pollinators. The re-evaluation will consider all agricultural uses of neonicotinoid insecticides, including soil applications, seed treatment, as well as foliar and greenhouse uses. The Canadian announcement follows France’s decision earlier this month to initiate its own review for thiamethoxam that could result in the cancelation of allowances for using the pesticide.

Neonicitinoids are highly toxic to a range of insects, including honey bees and other pollinators. They are taken up by a plant’s vascular system and expressed through pollen, nectar, and gutation droplets from which bees forage and drink. Neonicotinoids are particularly dangerous because, in addition to being acutely toxic in high doses, they also result in serious sublethal effects when insects are exposed to chronic low doses. Pollinators are commonly exposed to these doses through pollen and water droplets laced with the chemical as well as dust that is released into the air when coated seeds are planted. These effects cause significant problems for the health of individual honey bees as well as the overall health of honey bee colonies and they include disruptions in mobility, navigation, feeding behavior, foraging activity, memory and learning, and overall hive activity. Emerging research from Europe and the U.S. clearly implicates neonicotinoid pesticides in CCD.

On March 21, 2012, an alliance of commercial beekeepers and environmental organizations filed an emergency legal petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend all registrations for pesticides containing clothianidin. The legal petition, which is supported by over one million citizen petition signatures, targets the pesticide for its harmful impacts on honey bees. The legal petition establishes that EPA failed to follow its own regulations when it granted a conditional, or temporary, registration to clothianidin in 2003 without a required field study establishing that the pesticide would have no “unreasonable adverse effects” on pollinators. Granting the conditional registration was contingent upon the subsequent submission of an acceptable field study, but this requirement has not been met. EPA continues to allow the use of clothianidin nine years after acknowledging that it had an insufficient legal basis for initially allowing its use. Additionally, the product labels on pesticides containing clothianidin are inadequate to prevent excessive damage to non-target organisms, which is a second violation of the requirements for using a pesticide and further warrants removing all such mislabeled pesticides from use. Tell Congress and EPA that the U.S. must join in the emerging international recognition that neonicotinoid pesticides cannot be used safely and that their use must be prohibited.

The disappearance of the bees alerts us to a fundamental and systemic flaw in our approach to the use of toxic chemicals –and highlights the question as to whether our risk assessment approach to regulation will slowly but surely cause our demise without a meaningful change of course. While admittedly uncertain and filled with deficiencies, risk assessments establish unsupported thresholds of acceptable chemical contamination of the ecosystem, despite the availability of non-toxic alternative practices and products. Why do we allow chemical-intensive practices in agriculture when organic practices that eliminate the vast majority of hazardous substances are commercially viable? Risk assessments, supported by environmental and public health statutes, in effect prop-up unnecessary poisoning.

Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides recently discussed the connection between pesticides and bees in an interview on Link TV/Earth Focus. For the most recent updates on pollinator protection and CCD, see Beyond Pesticides’ resource page.

Sources: Health Canadahttp://www.beyondpesticides.org

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.