In a report released this week, the federal government has finally admitted neonicotinoids are to blame for the catastrophic bee deaths that have occurred over the last several years. The findings are part of the first scientific risk assessment to be done on the controversial insecticides and their affect on bee colonies.

The report confirms what environmentalists and beekeepers have implored for years: neonicotinoids weaken, disorient and kill honeybees. The analysis emphatically highlights imidacloprid as particularly harmful. According to the report, imidacloprid-used on over 30 million acres nationally- showed clear damage to hives and honey production. The EPA confirms that when bees encounter imidacloprid at levels above 25 parts per billion, a common level on farms, they suffer harm. Corn and citrus crops are most likely to expose honeybees to detrimental levels of imidacloprid, while “corn and leafy vegetables either do not produce nectar or have residues below the EPA identified level.”

dead-bees“These effects include decreases in pollinators as well as less honey produced,” the EPA’s press release states.

(The EPA says imidacloprid-treated corn likely doesn’t harm bees while failing to mention corn gets huge amounts of another neonic, clothianidin, a pesticide the EPA has never assessed.)

The report of imidacloprid is so critical the EPA “could potentially take action” to “restrict or limit the use” of the chemical by the end of this year, an agency email disclosed.

The end of the year is not good enough. Bees are dying in alarming numbers and not enough urgency is being given to a cataclysmic situation. A declining bee population is certain to lead to food shortages and skyrocketing grocery prices as honeybees are critical to one in every three bites of food we eat. Without honeybees, there will be no more apples, pears, peaches, almonds, okra, alfalfa, beans, berries, broccoli, cauliflower, cantaloupes, watermelons, cabbages, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and grapes.

As expected, the pesticide’s manufacturer, Bayer Crop Science, issued a statement critical of the condemning report:

At first glance it appears to overestimate the potential for harmful exposures in certain crops, such as citrus and cotton, while ignoring the important benefits these products provide and management practices to protect bees.”

Also concerning is the agency’s omission of a critical factor in the problem. Beekeepers and environmental groups argue the analysis fails to address the ways pollinators are exposed to the harmful insecticides: toxic dust that floats in the air after corn seed is planted in the spring. bee1

A coalition of beekeepers and environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday pointing out that the EPA has never properly assessed neonics in their most widely used form: as seed coatings, which are then taken up by crops.

This is a giant problem for beekeepers. Brett Adee, a beekeeper who lost more than 6,000 hives last spring during corn planting, said a state investigation found his bees were poisoned by a neonicotinoid that was used on the seeds being planted by his neighbors.

“None of my neighbors had done anything wrong,” he said. “But a defective product is being marketed. It’s blowing all over the willows and dandelions and not staying on the seeds.”

Peter Jenkins, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, said the EPA exempted pesticides used in seed coatings from standard regulations. “Unlike pesticides used as sprays or granular applications, those used as seed coatings carry no restrictions or mandatory safety measures when farmers and others handle them. It’s a critical oversight because the vast majority of neonicotinoids are used in that format,” Jenkins said.

“If a beekeeper has a kill from dust off … corn or soybean, there is no enforcement,” Jenkins. “The situation is unacceptable for beekeepers.”

The EPA must complete a risk assessment of imidacloprid’s effect on other species as well as assessments of the other four neonic products. Public comments are being accepted in regards to the plight of the bees. When leaving comments, please be sure to pressure the agency to conduct more research on the harm neonics are causing to birds, butterflies, and water-borne invertebrates. Recent studies suggest these species are in great danger from neonicotinoids as well. Report your concerns over the widespread use of this harmful chemical here.

Image Courtesy Tony Linka Illustration

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