Commercial beekeepers and environmental organizations have filed an urgent Legal Petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demanding the suspension and further use of a pesticide, which the agency's own scientists assessed as "highly toxic to honey bees" back in 2003. The Petition demands new safeguards be adopted, to ensure similarly dangerous pesticides are not approved by the agency in the future. The legal petition is supported by over one million citizen-petitions, which were collected from people across the country, demanding the ban of one pesticide in particular – clothianidin – because of its lethal impact on honey bees.
“EPA has an obligation to protect honeybees and pollinating insects from the threat of pesticides,” said Jeff Anderson of California Minnesota Honey Farms, a co-petitioner. “The Agency has failed to adequately regulate pesticides which are harmful to pollinators, despite scientific and on-the-ground evidence presented by academics and beekeepers.”
Over two dozen beekeepers and beekeeper organizations, from California and Minnesota to Kansas and New York, filed the legal petition with the EPA today. Many of these family-owned beekeeping businesses are migratory; beekeepers travel the country from state-to-state, during different months of the year, providing pollination to farmers and to harvest honey and wax. These bee-farmers are concerned about the continued impact of neonicotinoids on their bees and their beekeeping operations, which are already in jeopardy. Thousands of bee farmers have lost their entire businesses in the last six years.
“The future of beekeeping faces numerous threats, including those from clothianidin, and we need to take steps to protect pollinators and the livelihood of beekeepers,” said Steve Ellis of Old Mill Honey Co and a co-petitioner.
Nine years ago, the EPA's own scientists demanded a field-study on the potential harms of clothianidin to honeybees and non-target insects - because laboratory evidence clearly showed that the pesticide was 'highly toxic' to honeybees. In the years since EPA first required this study, a substantial body of scientific evidence has confirmed that the use of clothianidin, an environmentally persistent poison, presents substantial risks to honey bees and other insects.
“EPA ignored its own science division's requirements and failed to study the impacts of clothianidin on honey bees,” said Peter Jenkins, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety and co-petitioner. “The international body of scientific evidence against the chemical continues to grow, yet the agency has refused to take any action.”
The legal petition asserts that EPA failed to follow its own regulations: EPA granted a 'conditional', or temporary, registration to clothianidin in 2003 , without obtaining a crucially-required field study, proving that the pesticide would have no “unreasonable adverse effects” on bees and pollinators. Conditional registration was only granted on the condition that an acceptable field study would be submitted later; but this crucial requirement was never complied with. EPA continues to allow the use of clothianidin, nine years after admitting that it had insufficient legal basis to license its use in the first place. In addition, the product labels, which advise farmers about the application of pesticides containing clothianidin, are inadequate to prevent excessive damage to non-target organisms; this is a second violation of the requirements for legal application of a pesticide and further justifies the removal of all such mislabeled pesticides from the market.
Over 1.25 million people, including thousands of hobby-beekeepers, submitted comments in partnership with the organizations Avaaz, Change.org, Credo, Pesticide Action Network, Beyond Pesticides and Neals Yard Remedies/Care2.com, demanding that the EPA take action on clothianidin.
“EPA should move swiftly to close the loophole and revoke the conditional registration of clothianidin,” said Heather Pilatic, co-director of Pesticide Action Network and a co-petitioner. “Bees and beekeepers can’t afford to suffer another nine years of inaction.”
Petitioners point to the Agency’s repeated failure to assess potentially harmful products and take them off the market. EPA is concurrently conducting a review of clothianidin’s registration, which it aims to complete in 2018 - by which time Clothianidin will have been on the market for 15 years - without ever satisfying the legally required field studies.
Beekeepers estimate the economic value of their operations at $50 billion, based on retail value of food and crops that need pollination by bees. Bees pollinate many high-value crops, including: pumpkins, cherries, cranberries, almonds, apples, watermelons, and blueberries. So any collapse of bee populations, or any decline in the health and productivity of bees, could have a devastating impact on: agriculture, the food system and rural economies. According to a recent United Nations report on the global decline of pollinator populations, "honeybees are the most economically important pollinators in the world".
Beekeepers have survived the economic recession only to find their businesses are still threatened. Recent, catastrophic declines in honey bee populations, termed “Colony Collapse Disorder,” have been linked to a wide variety of factors, including: parasites, habitat loss and pesticides like clothianidin. Over 4 million bee colonies have died in America since 2006 and worldwide the figure is closer to 10 million bee colonies - all in countries where clothianidin is widely used.
“Independent research links the decline of pollinators, and especially that of honey bees, to a wide range of problems with industrial agriculture, especially pesticides,” said John Kepner, program director at Beyond Pesticides and a co-petitioner.
Neonicotinoids are a class of systemic pesticides in which the insecticide is applied as a seed-coating; the poison is taken up inside the growing plant, perfusing the entire structure of leaves, stem, flower and fruit, and it is also expressed in the pollen and nectar. The bees are poisoned as they harvest the pollen and nectar to take back to the hive . Recent research in the journal PLoS ONE underscores the threat of these pesticides through a previously undocumented exposure-route: seed-planter exhaust – this is the mixture of talc-dust and air which is expelled into the environment as automated planters place neonicotinoid-treated seeds into the ground.
As a result of the petition, EPA may choose to suspend the use of clothianidin, or open a public comment process to evaluate the concerns voiced by beekeepers and environmental organizations.
An EPA memo dated September 28, 2005 (attached) summarizes the Environmental Fate and Effects Division’s (EFED) screening-level Environmental Risk Assessment for Clothianidin:
- Clothianidin is expected to dissipate very slowly under terrestrial field conditions, based on the results of five bare ground field experiments conducted in the US and Canada. Half-lives of clothianidin, based on residues in the 0-15 cm soil depth, were 277 days (Wisconsin sand soil, incorporated), 315 days (Ohio silt loam soil, not incorporated), 365 days (Ontario silt loam soil, incorporated), and 1,386 days (North Dakota clay loam soil, not incorporated), and could not be determined at a fifth site due to limited dissipation during the 25-month study (Saskatchewan silty clay loam soil, incorporated). Incorporation did not appear to be a significant factor in determining the rate of dissipation. Clothianidin was generally not detected below the 45 cm soil depth except at one site, where it moved into the 45-60 cm depth. No degradates were detected at >10% of the applied, and degradates were generally only detected in the 0-15 cm soil layer. However, in many cases most of the parent remained untransformed at the close of the study; further accumulation of degradates could have occurred. Two studies were conducted to investigate leaching of clothianidin under field conditions. These studies were conducted in the Federal Republic of Germany and were apparently designed to fulfill certain European regulatory requirements. In these monolith lysimeter studies, 42 to 59% of the applied remained in the soil approximately 3 to 4 years following the first of two applications, and residues were primarily undegraded clothianidin.
- Direct contact and dietary exposure studies of honeybees indicate that clothianidin is highly toxic to honeybees (acute contact LD50 = 0.0439 µg/bee and acute oral LD50 = 0.0037 µg/bee). There is the potential for toxic exposure to honeybees, as well as other nontarget pollinators, through the translocation of clothianidin residues in nectar and pollen. In addition, studies indicate that clothianidin residues may affect foraging behavior. Data from studies determining the toxicity of residues on foliage indicate that clothianidin should not be applied to blooming, pollinating or nectar producing parts of plants because clothianidin will remain toxic to bees for days after a spray application. In honey bees, the effects of this toxic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive effects to the queen. The field study EFED is requesting should resolve uncertainties dealing with clothianidin’s affects on bees. Clothianidin’s major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees). EFED expects adverse effects to bees if clothianidin is allowed to be sprayed on blooming, pollen-shedding, or nectar producing parts of plants. Although EFED does not conduct a risk quotient based risk assessment on non target insects, information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid) also suggest the potential for long term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects. Further studies may be needed to determine toxicity to honeybees from granular, seed treatment or foliar spray applications.
- The available data on clothianidin shows that the compound is relatively persistent to very persistent under most circumstances. Clothianidin is stable to hydrolysis at all pH's at environmental temperatures, moderately to highly stable under aerobic soil metabolism conditions (half lives range from 148 to 6,900 days).....Certain degradates appeared to accumulate in some soils under some conditions; over the very long term significant contamination of soil and water with these products might occur. The terrestrial field dissipation studies confirm the findings in the laboratory studies. Clothianidin was found to be persistent in the field (half lives of 277 days, 1,400 days, and too high to calculate).
- The Agency acknowledges that pesticides have the potential to exert indirect effects upon the listed organisms by, for example, perturbing forage or prey availability, altering the extent of nesting habitat, and creating gaps in the food chain
Organizing & Media Director
Pesticide Action Network North America
"Advancing alternatives to pesticides worldwide"