Monday, July 15, 2019

EPA allows more use of pesticide toxic to bees after USDA announces it will stop tracking bee-colony numbers

Portland Press Herald photo illustration
"The Environmental Protection Agency approved broad new applications Friday for a controversial insecticide, despite objections from environmental groups and beekeepers who say it is among the compounds responsible for eviscerating the nation’s bee populations," Brady Dennis reports for The Washington Post.

It could be difficult to assess whether sulfoxaflor impacts the honeybee population, since the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that its National Agricultural Statistics Service will stop collecting quarterly data for its annual Honey Bee Colonies report, and has not said when or if it will resume.

The EPA first approved sulfoxaflor in 2013, but its use was restricted in 2015 after the agency was successfully sued in federal court. In 2016 the EPA approved its use for crops that don't attract bees, as well as for some plants after blooming was complete. "The agency also has repeatedly granted emergency waivers to states to allow the use of sulfoxaflor on certain crops because of a lack of effective alternatives for farmers — including more than a dozen such exemptions this year alone for sorghum and cotton," Dennis reports.

Farmers will now be allowed to spray the chemical, which the EPA says is "very highly toxic" to bees, to a wider range of crops, including corn, soybeans, citrus, strawberries, pineapples and pumpkins, Dennis reports.

"The news comes during a time that commercial honeybee colonies have been declining at a startling rate. The annual loss rate for honeybees during the year ending in April rose to 40.7 percent, up slightly over the annual average of 38.7 percent, according to the Bee Informed Partnership, a nonprofit group associated with the University of Maryland," Dannis reports. "Some of the losses have been associated with events such as massive wildfires in the west, the wet winter in the Midwest and hurricanes in the Southeast. But the bee losses documented over the past decade are often blamed in no small part on the increased use of fungicides, herbicides and certain pesticides."

In considering whether to approve expanded use of the chemical, the EPA relied on new industry-backed studies that showed that sulfoxaflor requires fewer applications and dissipates more quickly than other pesticides, which makes it less dangerous to bees and other wildlife, Dennis reports.

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