A federal appeals court has blocked the use of a pesticide over concerns about its effect on honey bees, which have mysteriously disappeared across the country in recent years.
In her opinion, Judge Mary M. Schroeder, one of three judges who sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel, wrote that the Environmental Protection Agency had initially decided to conditionally approve the chemical — sulfoxaflor — but ordered more studies to better understand the effects of the systemic insecticide on bees.
“A few months later, however, the EPA unconditionally registered the insecticides with certain mitigation measures and a lowering of the maximum application rate,” Schroeder wrote. “It did so without obtaining any further studies.”
“Given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it,” she added.
“Because the EPA’s decision to unconditionally register was based on flawed and limited data, we conclude that the unconditional approval was not supported by substantial evidence,” the court wrote.
The product, sold in the U.S. as Transform or Closer, must be pulled from store shelves by Oct. 18.
The judgment is a huge victory for environmentalists.
Sulfoxaflor belongs to a group of insecticides known as neonicotinoids (NEE-OH-NIC-DUH-NIDES), according to the Ninth Circuit ruling. Neonicotinoids are suspected of being among several factors that have contributed to the collapse of honey bee colonies throughout the U.S.
Bees, especially honeybees, are needed to pollinate crops, and they are considered essential to the U.S. food supply.
But a disorder has caused as much as one-third of the nation’s bees to disappear each winter since 2006. A 2013 report issued by the EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture cited a parasitic mite, multiple viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and pesticides as factors for the bees’ disappearance.
“We’re certainly extremely happy,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney with the group Earthjustice, which challenged the EPA’s approval of sulfoxaflor on behalf of groups in the beekeeping industry. “It means that sulfoxaflor comes off the market while the EPA does the work it should have done a long time ago.”
Loarie said the pesticide was used on cotton in southern states, but it had only been approved on an emergency basis for one crop in California.