Saving the bees

The EPA’s approval of another neonicotinoid pesticide jeopardizes our food system

Dec. 28, 2013, marked the 40th anniversary of the signing of the federal Endangered Species Act, a bill that for all its supposed flaws has done much to preserve the nation’s endangered plants, animals and insects. Interestingly, the anniversary came even as the act was being invoked to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over a perceived failure to protect an insect species that is perhaps the most crucial one for sustaining human life: bees.

The lawsuit, filed in March by major U.S. beekeeping associations, charges that by registering a new pesticide called sulfoxaflor, the EPA was giving its seal of approval to yet another in a class of pesticides—neonicotinoids—that scientific studies have shown contribute to massive bee die-offs.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, nearly one-third of all honey-bee colonies in the United States have vanished due to what is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In some areas of the country, more than half of the bees have disappeared. This has had a huge impact not only on beekeepers, but also on farmers of such crops as almonds, apples, citrus fruits, broccoli, cherries, cucumbers and others. Altogether, bees fertilize crops worth $15 billion a year.

These crops produce nearly one-third of the fruits and vegetables Americans eat. Without them, massive food shortages would ensue.

The EPA insists the neonicotinoids are safe if used according to directions. Experience shows otherwise, which is why several of them have been banned in the European Union. In the U.S., they are used on about 75 percent of food crops and about 95 percent of all corn.

The EPA is now re-evaluating the safety of neonicotinoids, but the process will take up to 10 years. In the meantime, it makes no sense to exacerbate the CCD crisis by introducing yet another highly toxic pesticide into the environment.