Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

EPA Sued Over Pesticides, Bee Deaths

As evidence mounts for the link between neonicontinoid use and bee deaths, a group of concerned Americans is bring suit against the EPA.

Macro shot of a bee gathering nectar from a yellow flower

Photo: staflo (flickr)

A great many staple food crops rely on bees to help them spread their pollen around.

A coalition of environmentalists and beekeepers is suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for what it says is the organization’s failure to protect bee populations from the impacts of harmful pesticides.

Some 75 percent of U.S. food crops rely on bees for pollination. Since 2006 — when colony collapse disorder (CCD) was first diagnosed — an estimated 30 percent of bees in North America has died annually.

From Seeds To Bees

The lawsuit takes aim specifically at a common class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or “neonics,” which are applied to the seeds of many popular crops before planting.

Bees can be exposed to neonicotinoids in two ways: by feeding from flowers that contain the chemicals, and by coming into contact with neonic powder that has been released into the air through the exhaust pipes of industrial planters.

Typically, exposure through feeding is too weak to kill the bees outright, but it can cause other problems, including navigational, learning and communication deficits. When lots of bees in a given colony are exposed, the health of the entire hive can be compromised, leading to collapse.

According to one Scottish study, bees that consume neonicotinoids produced 85 percent fewer queens than bees that don’t. Exposed bees also gained 8 to 12 percent less weight than those in the control groups.

Safer For Mammals

Advocates of the continued use of neonicotinoids point out that, compared to most other pesticides, they are significantly less dangerous to mammals. They also argue that the available science has not conclusively linked the chemicals to bee deaths.

Even so, some pesticide manufacturers are responding to the criticism before the results of the lawsuit are announced.

Bayer CropScience, for example, is working to develop a new version of the pesticide that has a thicker, waxier consistency, which is hoped will decrease the volume of chemical released in planter exhaust by 50 percent.

Read More:

  • Pesticides Suspected In Mass Die-Off Of Bees (Los Angeles Times)
  • US Government Sued Over Use Of Pesticides Linked To Bee Harm (The Guardian)
  • Are Agriculture’s Most Popular Pesticides Killing Our Bees? (NPR)
  • Bee-Harming Pesticides Escape Proposed European Ban (The Guardian)
  • Why The UK Will Fail To Block An EU Ban On Bee-Harming Pesticides (The Guardian)
Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon has been interested in food ethics since she was 15, learned about industrial slaughter, and launched into 10 years of vegetarianism. These days, she strives to be a conscientious omnivore. Now a PhD candidate in folklore, her research has caused her to spend a lot of time in the remote Canadian sub-arctic, where the lake trout (sustainably harvested) tastes amazing.

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