Bee keepers challenge EU's bee-toxic pesticide permit

| 29th October 2015
A bee supping nectar in a crop of oilseed rape / canola, Germany. Photo: Peter Biela via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
A bee supping nectar in a crop of oilseed rape / canola, Germany. Photo: Peter Biela via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
The EU's decision to authorise a new 'neonic' pesticide knowing it was highly toxic to bees has been challenged in the European Court. A similar permit granted to sulfoxaflor in the US has already been struck down by a federal court.
Bees in the US and Europe have seen unprecedented losses over the last decade - losses attributed to widespread pesticide use, especially neonicotinoids which gained popularity during the same time.

European beekeepers have filed a complaint to the European Court of Justice to cancel the authorization for the bee-toxic pesticide sulfoxaflor.

Manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, sulfoxaflor is a 'fourth generation' neonicotinoid chemical categorized by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as 'highly toxic to bees'.

The EFSA's assessment of the pesticide also identified crucial toxicity data gaps, which according to the beekeepers, makes a proper risk assessment for bees impossible.

The few field studies provided by Dow indicate acute risk to bees but important information is missing on brood toxicity, sublethal (orientation) toxicity or long term toxicity. Further, no studies on wild pollinators such as bumble bees were made.

This information is mandatory, according to EU law (Regulation 283/2013). But the European Commission's Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG Sante) chose to overlook the evidence showing sulfoxaflor is toxic to bees and the lack of toxicity data, and in July 2015 authorised the insecticide for 10 years.

Why the change?

In contrast, in 2013, a similar analysis of three neonicotinoid insecticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) prepared by EFSA - which found high risk to bees, many data gaps to carry out a proper risk assessment - led to an EU-wide ban on using the three pesticides in seed coatings on bee-attractive crops.

Martin Dermine, PAN Europe's honey bee project coordinator explains, "In 2013, DG Sante made a positive step towards a better protection of bees and the environment in general. This U-turn is not acceptable. We put it in parallel with other negative developments in the pesticide area since the Juncker Commission was established."

He adds that sulfoxaflor's physico-chemical and toxicological specificities make it a neonicotinoid - but Dow managed to have it classified as a Sulfoximine insecticide, "probably for reputation reasons."

Neonicotinoids, including sulfoxaflor, are 'systemic' insecticides, which means that they are applied to plants, they are absorbed and distributed throughout the plant, including pollen and nectar. Like other neonics, sulfoxaflor acts on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) in insects.

The complaint was filed by Bee Life European Beekeeping Coordination, the Italian National Beekeeping Union (UNAAPI), and PAN Europe, citing the EFSA's negative assessment.

US registration revoked

The move follows a recent US federal court decision that cancelled the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) earlier unconditional registration of sulfoxaflor, citing inadequate and flawed review of the science on the chemical's toxicity to bees.

In 2013, in response to EPA's initial registration of sulfoxaflor, beekeepers filed suit against EPA, citing that the insecticide further endangers bees and beekeeping, noting that their concerns were not properly addressed by EPA before registration was granted.

On 10th September 2015 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that EPA violated federal law and its own regulations when it approved sulfoxaflor without reliable studies regarding the impact that the insecticide would have on honey bee colonies. As a result sulfoxaflor may no longer be used in the US.

The panel vacated the EPA's unconditional registration because, given the precariousness of bee populations, allowing EPA's continued registration of sulfoxaflor risked increased environmental harm. Sulfoxaflor was registered in the US for use on vegetables, fruits, barley, canola, ornamentals, soybeans, wheat and other crops.

Several comments had been submitted to the EPA by concerned beekeepers and environmental advocacy groups, like Beyond Pesticides, that stated that approval of a pesticide highly toxic to bees would only exacerbate the problems faced by an already tenuous honey bee industry and further decimate bee populations.

However, EPA dismissed these concerns and instead pointed to a need for sulfoxaflor by industry and agriculture groups to control insects no longer being controlled by increasingly ineffective pesticide technologies.

US pollinator strategy fails to address bee-toxic pesticides

Bees in the US and Europe have seen unprecedented losses over the last decade - losses attributed to widespread pesticide use, especially neonicotinoids which gained popularity during the same time.

In the US, farm, beekeeper, and environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, have urged EPA to follow the European Union's lead and suspend the huge numbers of other bee-harming pesticides already on the market.

Thus far, EPA has amended neonicotinoid product labels to make clearer the hazards posed to bees, placed a moratorium on new neonicotinoid products, and proposed to place a temporary prohibition on the foliar application of pesticides acutely toxic to bees.

The plight of bees was recognized by the Obama Administration, which has since directed federal agencies to find solutions to reverse and restore healthy pollinator populations. The federal report, released May 2015, outlines several measures including public education and habitat creation, but little to nothing on bee-toxic pesticides.

States are also encouraged to develop pollinator plans to help mitigate risks to bees, but many including beekeepers believe these do not go far enough.



Petition: 'Ban all bee-killing insecticides, including Dow's deadly sulfoxaflor!'


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