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Hey EPA, Bees Can't Wait 5 More Years! Protect Them NOW!

[Reprinted from Pesticide Action Network's Online Blog, courtesy of Paul Towers]

Inaction? Intransigence? Negligence? Whatever the right word, we’re reminded that the U.S. is behind the curve when it comes to protecting bees. Yesterday, Europe’s restrictions on bee-harming pesticides went into effect.

Today, in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times and six other major papers, PAN and over 60 food, farm, faith and investor groups are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action. Quickly.

While Thanksgiving has passed, there are still many things to be thankful for. Among them, let’s count the bees. They pollinate much of our food, including the cranberries and pumpkin on so many Thanksgiving tables last week. In fact, we rely on bees for about a third of our food.

But these noble pollinators continue to be in trouble. Beekeepers in the U.S. have been losing, on average, over 30% of their bees each year since 2006 — twice what is considered sustainable. And commercial beekeepers, whose bees pollinate California almonds, lost over 50% of their colonies last year. Some even reported historic losses of 70% or more.

This is unsustainable, not only for beekeepers but for our food system and the agricultural economy.

EPA, get in gear

EPA has stated that it’s at least five years away from doing anything to protect bees from pesticides known to be harmful. First, the agency needs to complete its review of neonicotinoids — a relatively new and widely used class of systemic pesticides. This review isn't due to conclude until 2018.

Scientists point to neonicotinoids as a catalyst driving bee declines. While acutely toxic to bees (meaning, it kills them), studies have shown neonics also compromise bee immune systems and make them more susceptible to a wide range of other impacts like poor nutrition, mites and diseases.

Still, until EPA completes its (very slow) review of neonic products, the agency will not take action to adequately protect bees from this known threat.

Beekeepers say they — and bees — can’t wait for the agency's glacial pace. Federal officials have tried to appease beekeeper concerns with aimless conferences and reports, along with changes to pesticide product labels that yield no additional protections for bees. But decisive action, not token action, is urgently needed.

As beekeeper Jim Doan of New York said:

“Beekeepers are losing colonies at an unprecedented rate — the losses are too extreme to keep up with, and our entire industry is at risk of collapse unless federal action is taken.  Convening conferences and changing pesticide labels is not nearly enough.”

The ad urging EPA action is in today's New York Times, and also in the Boston Globe, the Washington Post,PoliticoMinneapolis Star Tribune, the Des Moines Register and the Los Angeles Times.

States in action

Since EPA has failed to step up in a timely way, states across the country are taking up the issue of protecting bees. In New York and New Jersey, legislative leaders have already introduced bills that would ban or track neonicotinoid pesticides.

And last week we were offered another glimmer of hope as Oregon regulators announced they are planning to restrict the use of neonicotinoids used on trees — and linked to a recent massive bee kill in that state.

While state action is helpful, bees need more comprehensive and uniform protections across the country. EPA should see states in action as a signal that the agency needs to step up. And quickly.


 
 

A Bill to Protect Bees

(from "Ground Truth")

 Late Tuesday afternoon, Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a long-awaited bill to place a moratorium on bee-harming pesticides. The "Save America's Pollinators Act" would require EPA to pull neonicotinoid pesticides off the market until fully reviewed by independent scientists and proven safe for pollinators.

EPA's current review of these pesticides is due to conclude in 2018, with an action plan to be implemented sometime thereafter. Meanwhile, bees continue to die off in droves — and scientific evidence highlighting neonics as a key factor continues to mount. Bees need help now, and the Conyers-Blumenauer bill provides them an immediate reprieve from neonic exposures.

Introduced in the 1990s, neonicotinoids are a class of systemic, neurotoxic pesticides known to beparticularly toxic to honey bees — and they have rapidly taken over the global insecticide market.

Neonics are widely used on more than 140 crops (including significant use on corn), as well as on termites, in flea treatments and in lawns and gardens. They are taken up through the plant’s vascular system to be expressed in pollen, nectar and guttation droplets (like dew) — from which bees then forage and drink.

Time for action

As we've reported, bees continue dying off at alarming rates — with beekeepers reporting losses this past season of 40-70%. And two weeks ago, 50,000 bumblebees dropped dead in a parking lot in Oregon from exposure to a neonicotinoid.

EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have largely failed to address concerns about neonicotinoid pesticides, and have collectively indicated that agencies are at least five years away from any steps to protect bees.

Last year, four members of Congress, including Representative Markey (MA), and Senators Gillibrand (NY), Leahy (VT) and Whitehouse (RI) penned letters to EPA urging the agency to expedite its review of bee-harming pesticides.

The Save America's Pollinators Act (H.R. 2692) seeks to do precisely that. This bill would suspend the use of neonics until a full review of scientific evidence — plus field studies — demonstrate no harmful impacts topollinators. Until then, these chemicals would be off the shelf. 

Protecting bees across the pond

Policymakers in Europe pulled three commonly used neonics off the market earlier this year, citing the growing body science showing their harms to pollinators. Just this week, the EU added another bee-harming pesticide, fipronil, to their restricted list.

While the ban is only in place for two years, it will allow time for scientists to more fully investigate the role neonics are playing in bee declines.

Here in the U.S., it's high time for similarly decisive action. The Save America's Pollinators Act is a strong step in the right direction.

As Paul Towers, PAN's media director, said in a statement this week:

"Congress is now moving to take action to protect bees, where EPA has failed. Following the worst year for bee losses in U.S. history, agency officials have focused attention on a series of endless meetings rather than coordinated action. The Save American Pollinators Act would address these regulatory failures and take bee-harming pesticides off the market."

Join the call for decisive action to help bees! Urge your Representative to support the Save America's Pollinators Act, and help get this critical bill passed.

 
 
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