Policy: Environment & Energy

Endangered: EPA finally comes to defense of honey bees

BY: Paul Bedard August 20, 2013 | 9:24 am
Honey bees are being endangered by a new type of pesticides. AP Photo.

Under pressure from Congress and the honey industry, the EPA is ordering an immediate reduction in the use of widely used pesticides, an admission that bug killers approved by the agency are partly responsible for the disappearance of honey bees.

The Environmental Protection Agency is changing the labeling on pesticides to reduce their use in fields when bees are present, the first significant concession provided to the honey industry which has reported bee kills of over 50 percent among some commercial beekeepers.

"Multiple factors play a role in bee colony declines, including pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking action to protect bees from pesticide exposure and these label changes will further our efforts," said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

It comes too late for many honey bees that pollinated blueberries, nuts and fruit trees earlier this year, and even those that fly into a Home Depot or Walmart garden center to suck the nectar from flowers for sale. According to a new report from Friends of the Earth and BeeAction.org, bee-attractive plants sold at top retailers contain the pesticides EPA now plans to limit.

At issue are "neonicotinoids," the fastest-growing class of synthetic pesticides made primarily by Bayer CropScience and Syngenta. They are used to treat more than 140 crop varieties and it is often pretreated on seeds, building in the pesticide.

The EPA plan focuses mainly on the use of "neonics" after plants have sprouted. The have developed a new label that governs the use of the pesticide, especially drifting bug killer dust when applied. The honey industry also wanted seed coating limited because it makes the flowers of treated plants just as poisonous to bees without any field application.

"The agency continues to work with beekeepers, growers, pesticide applicators, pesticide and seed companies, and federal and state agencies to reduce pesticide drift dust and advance best management practices," said EPA.

The honey industry and federal government have been trying to determine the cause of "colony collapse disorder," a phenomenon where bees don't return to hives at night. Many industry officials believe the pesticides are to blame and want stronger action from EPA.

The House Appropriations Committee even put pressure on the agency in its EPA budget report. "Recent research suggests that neonicotinoids may make honey bees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens. Therefore, the committee directs the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt a comprehensive assessment process that considers the risk of pesticides to honey bees, bumblebees, and solitary bees in all life stages," said the committee.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.

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