The USDA and EPA each hosted a “listening session” on pollinator health recently, where the public — beekeepers, farmers, pesticide manufacturing companies, environmental advocates like me, other public interest groups, etc — all get to stand up and tell the government what we think it should do in three minutes or less. USDA and EPA staff don’t respond — no questions, no comments, barely a blink of the eye — though it looked to me like they were taking notes for most of the time.
NRDC had about a half-dozen staff people there, including two scientists — myself talking about bees and Dr. Sylvia Fallon talking about the Monarch butterflies. And, about a half-dozen of our local NRDC supporters also came out to speak on behalf of pollinators, from their perspectives as gardeners, teachers, parents, and small business owners. They had fantastic comments, so listen up, USDA and EPA!
On behalf of Monarch butterflies, NRDC came armed with signatures from over 140 thousand NRDC members, supporting our legal petition filed earlier this year asking EPA to review glyphosate — used heavily (about 250 million lbs/year) on corn and soybean crops — and to impose restrictions on its use in order to mitigate the damage it has done to monarch butterflies. The iconic monarch butterflies that migrate across the US are in a rapid decline, largely due to the severe loss of milkweed plants from the accelerated use of glyphosate in connection with glyphosate resistant crops. So far the EPA has not issued a response to our petition.
On behalf of bees, NRDC submitted signatures from almost 275,000NRDC members urging EPA to respond to our legal petition to expedite the review of the neonicotinoid pesticides (‘neonics’). While there are a number of factors contributing to the dramatic die-off of bees - both honey bees and native bees - there is now a wealth of science that demonstrates that pesticides are a big part of the problem. In particular, the neonic pesticides (imidacloprid, clothianidin, and others) have been linked to impaired bee health, making it more difficult for the colony to breed, to fight off disease and pathogens, and to survive winter. What makes neonics so harmful to bees is that they are systemic — meaning they poison the whole treated plant including the nectar and pollen that bees eat — and they are persistent, lasting months or even years in the plant, soil, and waterways they contaminate. Traditional best management practices for bee protection, such as not spraying during the day or on bloom, doesn’t work for neonics.
Instead of acting to protect pollinators, EPA and USDA recently approved a double-death combination product of glyphosate and 2,4-D called ‘Enlist Duo’, two herbicides that have laid waste to the weeds and blooming wild flowers that provide critical food for Monarch butterflies and bees. NRDC has filed suit in federal court to reverse that approval.
There are a whole host of actions that the EPA and USDA should take to help pollinators. Most immediately, we are urging the agencies to scale back the use of glyphosate and other herbicides, reject new applications for herbicide resistant crops, restrict the use of neonics and support alternatives to broad-scale prophylactic use of persistent pesticides.
YOU CAN SUBMIT COMMENTS HERE to USDA and EPA until November 24th, to the Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0806, using the regulations.gov website.