In July, Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon introduced bill HR 2692: the Protect America’s Pollinators Act of 2013, which asks for a temporary ban on the neonicotinoid class of pesticides. The European Union has imposed a similar ban, but our Environmental Protection Agency says it’s going to take five more years of study (or maybe fewer if there’s an “emergency”) before it feels it can do the same.
The first warning sign that bees were in trouble occurred in 2006, when it became evident that normal bee deaths had jumped from a typical 16 percent a year to 31 percent. It wasn’t merely the higher percentage that was alarming, but the mysterious nature of these deaths, eventually termed Colony Collapsing Disorder or CCD because no “biological agent” could be identified as the culprit for the deaths. Today bee loss has increased to 45.1 percent.
When I contacted the EPA in December wanting to know the reason for the delay in banning the neonicotinoid pesticides, the response was, “What is not clear is whether or not pesticide exposure in general, and the neonicotinoid class in particular, is a major factor associated with U.S. honeybee health declines. Current scientific consensus suggests that disease-carrying Varroa mites and other factors play more significant roles than do pesticides.”
I don’t know how vigilant or reliable the EPA is, because in 2008 it approved the pesticide spirotetramat (trade name Movento and Ultor) for use on hundreds of types of crops despite concerns from scientists and beekeepers. The National Research Council together with Xerces Society challenged the illegal registration of spirotetramat in federal court in New York; the court invalidated EPA’s approval of the pesticide and found that the EPA “utterly failed to comply with the law and gave no explanation whatsoever for these shortcomings.” Movento was pulled from store shelves.
Bayer CropScience (maker of pesticides, including the above Movento, as well as those found in products such as Bayer Advanced Fruit, Citrus & Vegetable Insect Control and Ortho Flower, Fruit & Vegetable Insect Killer) is also pointing the finger at the Varroa mite as the main culprit in bee die-offs despite the fact that the Varroa mite has been studied since the 1980s, as have other factors, and does not account for one of the major symptoms that CCD bees suffer from: disorientation that prevents them from finding their way back to the hive.
A recent study on neonicotinoids was done by team of scientists in Italy and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal on Oct. 24. The scientists examined how a neonicotinoid made by Bayer “adversely affects the insect immune response and promotes replication of a viral pathogen in honey bees bearing covert infections.”
The only thing the EPA has done in regard to the concern over pesticides is to 1) “advance new equipment and formulation technologies that keep the pesticide on the seed,” 2) “change pesticide labels,” share 3) “on the use of pesticides to control Varroa mites” and 4) “issue new enforcement guidance … to enhance investigations of beekill incidents.”
As if this were not enough, the U.S. chief agricultural adviser in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement was a former lobbyist for CropLife International, a consortium often identified as BIG AG and made up of companies such as Bayer CropScience, Dow Agro Sciences, DuPont, Monsanto, Sumitomo and Syngenta.
Ursula Carlson is professor emerita at Western Nevada College.