Groups sue EPA over honey bee deaths
U.S. environmental regulators are failing to protect honey bees and their role in pollinating important food crops, and should immediately suspend use of some toxic insecticides tied to the widespread deaths of the bees, a lawsuit filed on Thursday charges.
"It is a catastrophe in progress," said migratory bee keeper Steve Ellis who maintains 2,000 bee hives for pollinating crops from Minnesota to California. "We have an ongoing problem that is worsening."
Orchard operators use bees to pollinate a variety of important U.S. crops, including almonds, cranberries, blueberries, avocados, apples, cherries, pears, and more. But over the last several years both the number of bees and the vitality of the bees has been in marked decline in the United States. Many studies have linked the prevalence of some new insecticides with the loss of the bees.
Several bee keepers and environmental groups unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year to restrict the insecticides, saying the toxic impact on honey bees could threaten the future of beekeeping worldwide.
On Thursday, four professional beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups said they would try to get a court to order the EPA to take action. The groups filed their lawsuit against the EPA in the Northern District Court of California, demanding that the regulatory agency suspend the use of pesticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam.
The pesticides, which are part of a class of systemic insecticides known as neonicotinoids, are absorbed by plants and transported throughout a plant's vascular tissue, making the plant potentially toxic to insects, the groups said.
Clothianidin and thiamethoxam first came into heavy use in the mid-2000s, at the same time beekeepers started observing widespread cases of colony loses, leaving beekeepers unable to recoup their losses, they said.
"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 Peter Jenkins, a lawyer for the Center for Food Safety who is representing the coalition of plaintiffs.
The groups said they have obtained records that show several "legal violations" by EPA officials connected to the approvals for clothianidin and thiamethoxam products.
The case also challenges the EPA's use of "conditional registrations," which expedite the approval process for chemical companies seeking to bring new products to market. Since 2000, over two-thirds of pesticide products, including clothianidin and thiamethoxam, have been brought to market as conditional registrations, the groups said.