Another voice: Urgent action needed to stop harmful chemicals

March 5, 2011

Ever wonder what caused the mysterious honey bee die-offs in recent years?

This year could be a comeback year for honey bees if the problem is correctly diagnosed and action is taken.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the disappearance of honey bees in large numbers, began to be reported all over the United States, Canada, England and other European countries in 2006-07.

Speculation about causes ranged from the microsporidian Nosema ceranae and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus to varroa mites and bad nutrition. Beekeepers in Pennsylvania and along the East Coast reported losing at least 60 percent or more of their colonies.

CCD has already caused disastrous consequences for American agriculture and the $18 billion worth of crops pollinated by bees every year.

In November 2010 a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employee released a memorandum wherein scientists acknowledge that bees and other non-target invertebrates are at risk from neonicotinoid pesticides and that current tests in the U.S. approval process are insufficient to detect the environmental damage caused by them. Neonicotinoid (pronounced "neo-nico-ti-noyed") are nicotine-based pesticides which received conditional approval for use by the EPA in 2003.

Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides which act on the central nervous system of insects with lower toxicity to mammals. Neonicotinoid are among the most widely used insecticides worldwide, but recently the uses of some members of this class have been restricted in some countries due to a possible connection to honey-bee CCD.

A neonicotinoid chemical known as clothianidin has recently received scrutiny. A July 2010 article in Bee Culture magazine calls into question the validity of the initial conditional registration of clothianidin by EPA in April 2003 without a chronic life cycle study that EPA scientists initially wanted. However, clothianidin was given a conditional registration.

It apparently has been EPA common practice to issue conditional registrations upon the condition that a life cycle study be completed during the first growing season, which would have been by the end of 2003, and delivered to the EPA by December 2004.

Time elapsed and Bayer, a multi-national corporation, asked for an extension after the conditional registration was to expire. EPA granted it. Then Bayer overran that extension and the chronic life cycle study was not completed until August of 2006.

Despite beekeeper concerns, the EPA sat on the clothianidin life cycle study for 15 months. Then in November 2007, EPA completed a review of the Bayer study and declared it "sound science" - but still did not release the life cycle study.

A 2009 European report identified similar inadequacies in the European approval regime with regard to neonicotinoid pesticides. This report indicates that bee populations have soared in the few European countries that have banned these chemicals; it therefore calls on the government to act urgently to suspend all existing approvals for products containing neonicotinoids pending more exhaustive testing and the development of international methodologies for properly assessing the long-term effects of systemic pesticides on invertebrate populations.

The Beekeepers Advisory Board of America, which represents a dozen organizations concerned with the health and preservation of honey bees, has recently sent its own December 2010 letter. It is addressed to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in Washington, D.C.

The letter begins: "In light of new revelations by your agency in a Nov. 2, 2010, memorandum that a core registration study for the insecticide clothianidin has been downgraded to unacceptable for purposes of registration, we are writing to request that you take urgent action to stop the use of this toxic chemical.

"Clothianidin is a widely used pesticide linked to a severe and dangerous decline in pollinator populations. ... We therefore urge the agency to issue a stop use order immediately. Our nation cannot afford, and the environment cannot tolerate, another growing season of clothianidin use."

Without sound science it only makes sense to support a decision to issue a stop use order on clothianidin and other neonicotinoid pesticides implicated in CCD. The EPA memo and the recent Beekeeper letter can both be found online.

Get the facts out and know that now is a good time to e-mail, phone or hard mail your own legislative representatives, or EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and support a stop-use decision.

Brian McClure is a beekeeper who lives in Parkdale.

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