UPPER DELAWARE VALLEY — There is a study of the pesticide clothianidin that was set to conclude in 2018. But because the pesticide has been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has been decimating honey bee colonies over the past six years, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on July 26 urging that the study be concluded by the end of next year.
According to a press release issued by Gillibrand’s office, clothianidin is a “neonicotinoid, a class of pesticide that could be toxic to honey bees and other pollinators in high or chronic doses. Research has shown that neonicotinoids can cause disruptions in mobility, navigation, feeding, foraging, memory, learning and overall hive activity, all functions that are vital to the survival of the honey bee.”
Gillibrand’s letter comes in the wake of a petition filed with the EPA in March by 27 environmental and beekeeping groups requesting that the agency immediately ban clothianidin because it presents an “imminent hazard” to bees and the bee-keeping industry that could mean billions of dollars in lost bees and honey, and which could also mean that countless plants that need to be pollinated to provide food for humans and livestock could go without pollination.
The EPA rejected the petition for several reasons. One is that, under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the harm from the “imminent hazard” must occur within two to three months for an emergency ban or within two years for a complete cancellation. And in their petition, the petitioners did not indicate that the financial harm would occur with those time frames.
Additionally, according to the EPA’s response, petitioners looked only at one side of the issue. The EPA wrote,“Petitioners only address potential harm from the use of clothianidin, without addressing whether that harm is reasonable when weighed against clothianidin’s benefits.”
In March, Bayer CropScience, the maker of the pesticide, issued a statement saying, “There has been no demonstrated effect on bee colony health associated with the appropriate use of clothianidin in the environment.” Further, the statement said, “Clothianidin is a critical tool, used by farmers, to control a wide range of destructive insect pests on a variety of crops, thereby significantly increasing yields. Despite many years of commercial use on millions of acres around the world—including corn, soybean and canola crops—there have been few accidental exposures to foraging bees and no demonstrated effects on long-term colony health associated with these products.”
But the EPA did not say clothianidin has no impact on honey bees. It’s response to the petition says, “The data, literature and incident reports do make clear that clothianidin is acutely toxic to bees, and that adverse effects to foraging bees occasionally occurs with clothianidin use,” but it says there is not enough data to impose a ban.
There is also the question of whether clothianidin is actually the only cause of colony collapse disorder. There is a growing consensus among those studying the issue that CCD has multiple causes, and the pesticide may make hives substantially weaker, and when some virus or other agent invades, the bees don’t have the strength to fight it off.
On July 20, the EPA announced the decision not to immediately ban the substance, but they will accept public comment on the subject for 60 days at www.regulations.gov  using the docket code EPA HQ-OPP-2012-0334.
After the announcement, Paul Towers, media director for Pesticide Action Network, one of the petitioners, said, “EPA has caved to corporate pressure and failed to follow the science. This is a reminder of the power and influence of pesticide corporations, despite significant impacts to the livelihood of beekeepers and rural economies.”
In her letter, Gillibrand wrote, “one in three bites of food is reliant on honey bee pollination.”