Trump administration to approve pesticide that may harm bees

Jul 12, 2019 by

EPA said studies it considered, most of which were sponsored by industry, found sulfoxaflor isn’t dangerous for the pollinators

Beekeepers in the US lost 40% of their colonies in the past year, raising concerns about the effects of pesticides.
 Beekeepers in the US lost 40% of their colonies in the past year, raising concerns about the effects of pesticides. Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

The Trump administration is approving the pesticide sulfoxaflor – thought by some experts to harm bees – for use on a wide variety of crops.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the studies it considered, most of which were sponsored by industry, found the chemical is not dangerous for the pollinators responsible for $15bn in US crops each year.

Beekeepers in the US lost 40% of their colonies in the past year, raising concerns about the effects of pesticides.

But an EPA official, who the agency asked not be named, told reporters that the studies “show that sulfoxaflor disappears from the environment more quickly than widely-used registered alternatives, thereby lowering risks to bees”.

Those alternatives include organophosphates and neonicotinoids. The EPA in May banned the use of 12 out of 59 neonicotinoid pesticides as part of a legal settlement with a food safety group. The EU last year enacted a near total ban on the chemicals.

Studies have outlined the dangers of the chemical for bees. One showed sulfoxaflor threatens bee reproduction.

EPA has been allowing the “emergency” use of the pesticide on some farms already. It is produced by Dow AgroSciences and sold under the brand names Closer and Transform.

The agriculture department also recently suspended data collection for its Honey Bee Colonies survey.

The advocacy group Beyond Pesticides said in a recent post that sulfoxaflor is one of many pesticides threatening bees and the human food supply.

“Permitting its use and then ceasing to collect and report data on the status of honey bees that are likely to be impacted is not only a recipe for kneecapping the study of bee decline and imperiling the food supply, but also, another example of the corruption for which this administration is infamous,” the group said.

EPA is approving the pesticide for use on some crops for the first time, including corn, grains and soybeans. The agency is also restoring the use of the chemical on citrus and cotton.

There are some exceptions. It will not allow application when certain plants are blooming and attracting bees, including stone fruits, tree nuts and low-growing berries. For citrus, the pesticide can be applied only once, three days before bloom, the official said.

In 2015 a court overturned EPA’s decision to allow the unconditional registration of the pesticide, saying the agency didn’t have enough evidence about the impact on bees. In 2016, under the Obama administration, the EPA banned the use of the pesticide on crops that attract bees, including cotton.

The Trump EPA official said the agency has determined there are no gaps in its data and said the agency “highly values pollinator protection”.

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