WASHINGTON (July 7, 2014)—The government should move as quickly as possible to ban a major class of insecticides that scientists say is a primary cause of the massive decline of bees and other crucial pollinators, the Natural Resources Defense Council said today.
In an emergency petition filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NRDC said there is “mounting scientific evidence” that the pesticides, neonicotinoids, or “neonics,” “are toxic to bees and threaten both individual and population survival.” Neonics comprise roughly 25 percent of the global agrochemical market and are the most widely used class of insecticides in the world today.
“The bee situation is dire. Getting rid of these bee-toxic pesticides is one thing we can do right now to stem the decline,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at NRDC.
Populations of bees, which are critical to the pollination of many food crops, have been in sharp decline worldwide for a decade, a phenomenon known as “colony collapse disorder.” Scientists believe that bees that are exposed to neonics when they visit flowering plants suffer serious behavioral and functional problems that devastate their populations.
The petition asks EPA to launch an immediate one-year review of neonics’ impact on bees, to determine if the pesticides’ use should be prohibited on bee-pollinated crops and ornamental plants—including shrubs and plants sold to consumers as “bee-friendly.”
EPA already acknowledges that a number of the neonic pesticides are “highly toxic” to bees. It says it is currently reviewing neonics and will evaluate their impact on bees in 2019. “This delay cannot be justified,” the NRDC petition says. It asks the agency to begin its review within 30 days.
In the longer term, the petition asks the agency to “initiate cancellation proceedings for all neonicotinoid pesticide products, beginning with those for which safer alternatives are available.” The European Union has already recognized the dangers of neonics and last year imposed a minimum two-year moratorium on certain neonics being used on crops “attractive to bees.”
Unlike traditional pesticides that are applied on a plant’s surface, neonics are “absorbed into the plant tissue, turning a plant into a ‘tiny poison factory’ that emits toxins from its pollen down to its roots,” the petition says. It affects beneficial insects like bees and other pollinators as well as harmful ones. Bees carrying the insecticide-laced pollen and nectar back to their hives and nests can spread the toxins to the whole colony.
If they don’t kill the bees outright, neonics have been shown to suppress the bees’ immunity to diseases, impair their egg-laying, and make them disoriented, hurting their ability to forage and find their way back to the hive, according to the latest research.
Neonics’ use has soared in recent years: as of 2011, 3.5 million pounds were applied to 127 million acres of crops, double the amount five years earlier. They are heavily marketed by international chemical giants such as Bayer, Dow, Monsanto and Syngenta.
The plight of bees and other pollinators has raised alarms at the White House. President Obama last month created a Pollinator Health Task Force, headed by EPA and the Agriculture Department, to come up with a National Pollinator Health Strategy, including an assessment of neonics’ impact on bees. The White House noted that the number of U.S. honey bee colonies has plunged over the decades, and that pollinators contribute over $24 billion in pollination value.
The petition is here: http://docs.nrdc.org/health/hea_14070701.asp
For more information see: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/plehner/pesticides_behind_bee_collapse.html