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EPA Favors 'Bee-Toxic Pesticides' Over Future of Food, Groups Charge

The EPA has refused to protect bees, "so we’ve been compelled to sue," said food safety group

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Arguing that the Environmental Protection Agency has failed in its obligation to protect the nation's bee population—one of the Earth's most vital pollinators—from dangerous pesticides, a group of beekeepers and environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court saying the EPA's inaction is causing great harm to biodiversity and the future of food in the U.S.

(Saire Elizabeth via Flickr / Creative Commons License) The suit filed by the coalition aims to compel the EPA to suspend the licensing of insecticides that have repeatedly been identified as highly toxic to honey bees and that act as "significant contributors to the devastating ongoing mortality" of bees known as colony collapse disorder (CCD).

“Our country depends on bees for crop pollination and honey production. It’s time for EPA to recognize the value of bees to our food system and agricultural economy," said plaintiff Steve Ellis, a Minnesota and California beekeeper.

The groups involved, which have long been fighting on behalf of the bees, say that the EPA has ignored their efforts, including a petition which urged the agency to take swift action against two insecticides classified as neonicotinoids filed over one year ago.

“Beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups have demonstrated time and time again over the last several years that EPA needs to protect bees.  The agency has refused, so we’ve been compelled to sue,” said attorney Peter T. Jenkins of the Center for Food Safety (CFS), which is representing the coalition in the suit.  “EPA’s unlawful actions should convince the Court to suspend the approvals for clothianidin and thiamethoxam products until those violations are resolved.”

While the EPA has failed to ban these highly toxic pesticides outright, they have also, according to CFS, failed to properly regulate them.

Those failures include improper labeling of toxic substances, "lax enforcement” for pesticide usage, and the continued practice of allowing companies to exploit regulatory loopholes—often in the form of a process called "conditional registrations."

“Pesticide manufacturers use conditional registrations to rush bee-toxic products to market, with little public oversight,” said Paul Towers, a spokesperson for Pesticide Action Network. “As new independent research comes to light, the agency has been slow to re-evaluate pesticide products and its process, leaving bees exposed to an ever-growing load of hazardous pesticides.”

The pesticides in the case—clothianidin and thiamethoxam—are also included in a list of pesticides that are currently being considered for a ban in the European Union. However, the EU failed to reach a decision in a heated vote last week—a result which "flies in the face of science and public opinion and maintains the disastrous chemical Armageddon on bees, which are critical for the future of our food," according to campaigners working for the European wide ban on the toxic substances.

While clothianidin is manufactured by Bayer, and thiamethoxam is made by Syngenta, neither company chose to comment on the lawsuit, the Guardian reports.

The plaintiffs in the case include four beekeepers, Steve Ellis of Old Mill Honey Co. (MN, CA), Jim Doan of Doan Family Farms (NY), Tom Theobald of Niwot Honey Farm (CO) and Bill Rhodes of Bill Rhodes Honey (FL) as well as Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, Sierra Club, and the Center for Environmental Health.

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