Bee health debate heats up over pesticides

A new national campaign to restrict use of a widely applied group of pesticides is bringing increased attention to the question of how to improve the health of honeybees and other pollinators.

This week a full-page advertisement appeared in major U.S. newspapers calling for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose a moratorium on use of neonicotinoids, a type of chemical used in seed treatments and other insecticides.

A large group of advocacy and environmental organizations, organic food businesses, and agricultural activists signed the petition, which cites the website Save-Bees.org. The ad was paid for by the Ceres Trust. Image

The ad also endorsed a U.S. House Bill, Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which seeks to require EPA to suspend the registration of a group of neonicotinoid insecticides used in seed treatments and other products until proving that the insecticide aren’t causing “unreasonable adverse effects” on pollinators.

“This week, 15 countries are imposing a two-year restriction on the use of several of these chemicals,” the ad stated. Currently, EPA is not expected to take further action until 2018, the ad stated. “Bees can’t wait five more years — they are dying now.”

The pollinators bill in the House, introduced by Representative John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), is cosponsored by 38 Democrats. In other recent action, House Republicans prepared a draft report directing EPA to further review neonicotinoids for their impact on pollinators. The draft from the House appropriations committee stated that research suggests that the pesticides increase threats to bee health, according to a report from Insideepa.com.

Also, a federal lawsuit in a U.S. district court pits environmentalists against manufacturers over the claim that pollinator impacts are unavoidable because of their systemic mode of action, which places the chemicals in the plant pollen, nectar, leaves, and stems.

Pesticide manufacturers and other agricultural interests have pointed to a recent report from EPA and USDA showing that there is no “smoking gun,” no single cause, in the honeybee health crisis.

The report, released last spring, cited multiple factors for the decline in honeybee colony numbers, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition, and pesticide exposure.

The Save-Bees.org campaign “distorts the real situation regarding pollinator health and repeats the same unsupported accusations regarding the use of critical crop protection products,” says Bill Marks, senior counselor for Porter Novelli, which represents Bayer, a manufacturer of neonicotinoid products.

“While our industry recognizes the importance of honeybees to agriculture and supports reasonable measures to protect them, it is incorrect and irresponsible to suggest that neonicotinoid insecticides are responsible for declines in bee colony health,” Marks told Agriculture.com. “Calls by advocacy groups to ban neonicotinoids would only hurt the American farmer and would have no appreciable benefit to bee colony health.”

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