Court sides with the bees, overturns EPA approval of a pesticide

Appeals court calls EPA approval of bee-threatening pesticide “based on flawed and limited data.”

A federal appeals court has overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of the pesticide sulfoxaflor, citing the threat to already vulnerable bee populations. Sulfoxaflor is used in several products manufactured by Dow AgroSciences for use on fruits, vegetables and grains. It’s sold under the brand names Closer and Transform.

The EPA approved sulfoxaflor, which belongs to a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, back in 2013. But prior to approval, even the EPA seemed concerned about the dangers the pesticide posed to bees, and asked for more data. However, according to the court opinion, approval was granted before the additional studies were completed.

A growing body of research implicates neonicotinoids in the global decline of bee populations. A recent assessment by the European Food Safety Authority found that several types of these pesticides pose a ‘high risk’ to bees.

The court ruling is the outcome of a lawsuit filed by a group of beekeepers against the EPA. Although the ruling does not affect the many other types of neonicotinoid pesticides on the market, it may set an important precedent. Greg Loarie, an attorney for EarthJustice who represented the beekeepers in the suit, told Mother Jones that the ruling shows the EPA must ask for robust data from pesticide manufacturers. Future studies should show that pesticides are not only safe for individual bees, but also safe for the entire hive.

“Without sufficient data, the EPA has no real idea whether sulfoxaflor will cause unreasonable adverse effects on bees,” stated the court decision.

That’s important, because colony collapse disorder is a complicated phenomenon that may be caused by a confluence of environmental threats. It seems likely that a buildup of sublethal exposure to pesticides may have ripple effects for the larger colony.

The court concludes: “In this case, given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it.”

Tags: Bees | Colony Collapse Disorder | EPA | Pesticides

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