Environmental groups petition president for new rules to protect honey bees

The Wisconsin Gazette

Environmental groups representing millions of Americans this week urged President Barack Obama to take action against neonicotinoid insecticides that are devastating honey bee and wild bee populations.

In a letter to the White House, the 11 groups called on the president to immediately suspend neonicotinoid use, take steps to curb the insecticides’ adverse impacts and to instruct his administration to close a legal loophole that allows insecticides sales before the chemicals are adequately assessed for safety.

The letter was sent three weeks after more than 100 businesses, many of them members of the American Sustainable Business Council and the Green America Business Network, sent a similar plea to the White House.

“We hope that you will prioritize action on this issue of vital importance to our food system, economy and environment and make saving bees a key piece of your legacy as president,” the letter stated.

Signers include Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice; Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S., and nine other green CEOs.

Citing “a significant loss” of bees and other pollinators last summer, Obama created an interagency Pollinator Health Task Force to be co-chaired by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Department. The president gave the task force 180 days to develop a national strategy.

The task force missed its December deadline and is expected to release a strategy paper in the coming weeks.

The letter charges that the EPA is unable “to properly regulate insecticides impacting bees” and notes the “EPA announced it will not release a regulatory decision on neonicotinoids before 2016.”

The letter urges the president to speed up the review of neonicotinoids and hasten the development of better tests for the insecticides’ effect on bees.

“If current rates of bee die-offs continue,” the letter stated, “it is unlikely that the beekeeping industry will survive EPA’s delayed timeline, putting our agricultural industry and our food supply at serious risk.”

Also, according to the letter, “EPA has allowed millions of acres of crop seeds treated with neonicotinoids to be planted annually with no registration of the pesticide-treated seeds and no enforcement against them in cases of misuse.”  Bees are critical for pollinating dozens of important American food crops and contribute nearly $20 billion to the U.S. economy annually.

Neonicotinoids, often applied to seeds before planting, are particularly dangerous for bees because they poison the whole plant, including the nectar and pollen which bees eat. At very high doses, they can kill bees directly; but they more commonly affect and impair bees’ ability to breed, forage, fight disease and survive the winter, scientists say. Yet a recent EPA analysis found that neonicotinoid treatment on soybean seeds offers little or no economic benefit to soy producers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will phase out use of neonics in wildlife refuges by 2016. Meanwhile, the European Union has a two-year ban on the most widely used neonics.