Honey bees are in trouble. In the last 50 years, experts say the domesticated honey bee population declined nearly 50 percent. This year was one of the worst on record, with some U.S. beekeepers losing 60 percent of their hives. Add in losses suffered by wild honey bees, bumblebees and other pollinators, and the numbers seem downright frightening.
Why? Bees account for one-third of the food we eat. Every fruit, vegetable or nut that forms from a flower — tomatoes, almonds, squash, blueberries — requires pollination. According to The Pollinator Partnership, pollinators add $217 billion to the global economy. Honey bees alone are responsible for $1.2 billion to $5.4 billion in agricultural productivity in the United States.
Colony Collapse Disorder — the phenomenon in which worker bees disappear leaving behind a queen, food and a few nurse bees — started making news in 2006. The term has since come to encompass the broader issue of bee die-offs.
Experts say many factors affect bee health: mites; viruses; bacteria; disease; poor nutrition and beekeeping practices; the transportation of hives cross country; habitat loss; genetically modified plants; lack of genetic diversity; weather…and pesticides.
Pollinators are exposed to many pesticides. One class of chemistry — neonicotinoids — has been in the media and regulatory spotlight as of late. Pollinators are exposed to these widely used insecticides through direct contact with sprays and residue on plants. They also are exposed by ingesting the pollen and nectar of neonicotinoid-treated plants, though at lower levels.
Even if neonicotinoid exposure is not enough to kill bees outright, some say it weakens the insects’ immune system and ability to fend off attacks by other foes.
Focus shifts to specialty uses. Up until this June, most of the attention was on the agricultural use of neonicotinoids as a seed coating and for other crop treatments. But then 50,000 bumblebees died in a Wilsonville, Ore., parking lot, and it was determined that Safari, a dinotefuran pesticide sprayed on 55 linden trees to control aphids, was the cause.
This was “absolutely a game changer,” said Gene Harrington, vice president of government affairs, National Pest Management Association. The die-off put the spotlight on pesticide use in suburban and urban areas and the impact these use patterns could have on bee populations.
Perimeter and landscape pesticide application suddenly became a big part of the bee health conversation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and members of Congress stepped up their involvement, he said.
Acting with an “abundance of caution” while it investigates the Wilsonville bee kill, the Oregon Department of Agriculture restricted the use of 18 products containing dinotefuran.
What Does the Research Say?
University of Illinois entomologist and bee researcher May Berenbaum, who admits to not being a fan of pesticides, said, “We need solid science to support policy decisions and the science supporting neonicotinoids as the sole cause of bee decline is just not there,” she said.
She said researchers don’t have “compelling epidemiological evidence” that singles out neonicotinoids; a number of lab studies implicate other pesticides and factors in bee problems.
A study published in August identified varroa mites plus viruses as a “probable cause” of reduced bee survival, while nutrient deficiency was judged to be a “possible cause.” Neonicotinoid pesticides were judged “unlikely” as the sole cause of reduced survival, though researchers said they could be a contributing factor.
Formulations even may be the culprit. Scientists at Pennsylvania State University found the inert ingredients in most formulations were more toxic to bees than their respective active ingredients.
And a May 2012 article said while early laboratory studies describe lethal and sub-lethal effects of neonicotinoids on the foraging behavior and learning and memory of bees, no effects were observed in field studies at field-realistic dosages.
Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, disagreed. If EPA truly looks at the evidence, “I don’t see how they can’t pull” the pesticides where bees and other pollinators are involved, he said.
Research by Dave Goulson, a bee expert at Sussex University, found exposure to neonicotinoids impairs bees’ navigation, pollen gathering and egg laying — effects not revealed by safety tests used by regulators to evaluate pesticides on bees. Another study found colonies treated with neonicotinoids suffered an 85 percent reduction in the production of new queens compared with control colonies.
Scientists at Royal Holloway University of London had similar results. They found bumblebees with chronic exposure to imidacloprid and lambda-cyhalothrin (a pyrethroid) at concentrations near field-level exposure, had impaired natural foraging behavior and increased worker mortality leading to reductions in brood development and colony success. They also found evidence that exposure to a combination of pesticides increases the propensity of colonies to fail.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and University of Maryland found low levels of pesticide exposure from crop pollination make honey bees more susceptible to the deadly gut parasite, Nosema ceranae. Neonicotinoid pesticides were one of the 35 different pesticides found in pollen samples.
Consistent exposure may have a cumulative effect. In June, researchers reported that pollinating insects are exposed for much of the year to multiple sources of multiple neonicotinoids in their foraging area, though often at very low doses.
Even the U.S. Army is funding studies on pollinator health to ensure the nation’s food security.
In August, researchers attending the International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health and Policy at Pennsylvania State University inched “a little closer to developing a consensus” on what they need to measure and identified information that is lacking, said Christina Grozinger, director of the university’s entomology department and Center for Pollinator Research.
They discussed appropriate field-relevant doses, whether to test active ingredients or formulations, which species and life stages to test, whether to test individuals or colonies, and if sub-lethal effects in the lab translate to population losses in the field.
It’s “obviously a very complex and thorny area,” Grozinger said.
The 180-day restriction applies to outdoor applications of ornamental, turf and agricultural pesticide products used by professional applicators and homeowners. Some of these products are used by PMPs, said Harrington.
In July, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced “The Save American Pollinators Act” in Congress. The bill asks for the suspension of four neonicotinoids — dinotefuran, imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam — until their registration review by EPA is complete in 2019.
Harrington says he doesn’t believe the bill will pass, but it does raise awareness of the bee health issue and serves as a “not-so-subtle message to EPA” that lawmakers and the public are “extremely concerned about protecting pollinators and ensuring they’re not unnecessarily exposed to pesticides.”
A pending New Jersey bill would ban all neonicotinoid pesticides in the state. (A similar bill is pending in Puerto Rico as well.) “I suspect we’ll see additional neonicotinoid-related bills in other states and other governmental jurisdictions in the coming years,” said Harrington.
New labels for 2014. In August, EPA announced label changes to “better protect bees and other pollinators” from dinotefuran, imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam (see related article on page 44). It cited a comprehensive report released in May by EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing scientific consensus that pesticide exposure is one of the stressors associated with honey bee declines.
EPA intends to have the new label language on “as many products as possible by the 2014 use season.”
The new labeling only applies to products with outdoor foliar applications that might result in exposure to bees; granular products are exempt. It features a “pollinator protection box” and bee icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions.
Neonicotinoids Aren’t the Only Pesticides Feeling Pressure
Bee health has focused attention and regulatory change on neonicotinoid pesticides, but “we believe that the conversation will become more use-pattern oriented over the coming years, and ultimately impact other chemistries as well,” said Gene Harrington, vice president of government affairs at the National Pest Management Association, in an email to NPMA committee members.
All pesticides applied outdoors have potential to come under scrutiny, said Rick Bell, vice president of government affairs and industry stewardship, Arrow Exterminators, Atlanta. That includes products for perimeter and mosquito control. It could be a “tsunami” if people turn their focus to other pesticide products used outdoors, he said.
In July, the European Union voted to restrict the use of fipronil as a seed treatment for two years, saying the pesticide poses an acute risk to Europe’s honey bee population.
Fipronil is undergoing registration review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a process that should be complete by 2017. Karen Reardon, communications director for Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, said fipronil is not facing the same scrutiny by EPA as neonicotinoids and doesn’t expect the agency to impose pollinator protection language. Pest management professionals’ use patterns of fipronil are not attractive to pollinators, she said.
Sulfoxaflor, a recently registered agricultural chemical that will have some ornamental applications, also is taking heat. National beekeeping organizations and beekeepers filed suit against EPA in an attempt to get the pesticide’s registration repealed. Plaintiffs claim sulfoxaflor is “highly toxic” to honey bees and other insect pollinators.
Gary Hamlin, public affairs manager at Dow AgroSciences, said sulfoxaflor has the most “bee protective label” of any insecticide registered by EPA in recent years.
A new study by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and University of Maryland found 35 different pesticides in pollen samples, and that low levels of pesticide exposure from crop pollination make honey bees more susceptible to the deadly gut parasite, Nosema ceranae. Pollen samples contained an average of nine different pesticides from classes of oxadiazines, neonicotinoids, carbamates, cyclodienes, formamidines, organophosphates and pyrethroids. Most frequently found in the samples were fungicides.
The bulk of the new language concerns pesticide applications to food crops using pollination services (hired honey bees) and to crops and ornamentals not under pollination service but attractive to bees.
Language for non-agricultural products is as follows:
Do not apply [insert name of product] while bees are foraging. Do not apply [insert name of product] to plants that are flowering. Only apply after all flower petals have fallen off.
In addition to the new label language, registrants also were required to submit efficacy data and pollinator stewardship plans to EPA by Sept. 30. EPA said it will have a better understanding of any industry concerns after it reviews those materials.
What does it mean? The new language will significantly impact use patterns for pest management professionals, said Harrington.
NPMA continues to meet with EPA officials to “ensure the language or interpretation of the new language is as workable as possible,” he said. It is working with the Association of Structural Pest Control Regulatory Officials (ASPCRO) to retain certain uses, like for the control of Africanized bees, bees in walls, those damaging property or considered a public health threat.
“NPMA supports the agency’s action to develop consistent language to protect bees but believes there needs to be some clarification and guidance about the language,” said Bob Rosenberg, executive vice president, NPMA. For example, what does foliar mean — flowers, foliage or any part of a flowering plant or tree?
Are systemic applications, like a soil drench to control ants by eliminating aphids, considered foliar treatments?
What does foraging mean? If bees are on plants adjacent to a treatment area, can the treatment proceed?
At this point, it’s premature to say exactly how the label will affect PMPs, said Rosenberg. He expects clarification by early winter.
There is some room for label improvement, experts say. The label of the product used in the Oregon bee kill says not to “apply the product or allow it to drift to blooming crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treatment area.” Harrington doesn’t think most PMPs would interpret that language to preclude treatment of a tree or other blooming landscape plant. New label language should provide clarity.
Steven Dwinell, Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, said the label revisions were “a great step forward.” EPA has done “a great job identifying some of the factors that can affect bees if pesticides aren’t used properly” and made these very clear to applicators.
ASPCRO is “happy to see EPA attempt to make some definable, enforceable language,” said President John Scott. Some elements of the language are “very positive.”
Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, said the label changes are a step in the right direction but not nearly enough, given that neonicotinoids remain toxic in pollen and nectar for months. Consumer and professional products with neonics should feature a bee in the universal “no” circle so users immediately know the product is harmful to bees, he added.
Joe Barile, technical services lead for Bayer’s professional pest management business, said the regulatory process has proceeded “as expected.” Bayer, maker of imidacloprid and clothianidin, has asked for an exemption for structural pest management uses. He said the agency is “receptive to dialogue” and says he believes the label language will be amended, as pyrethroid label language was. (See “Pyrethroid Label Requirements Tweaked Again,” March 2013 PCT, page 64.)
EPA said the label changes are part of a coordinated agency effort to improve pollinator protection going back more than a decade.
Still, PMPs worry the agency is moving too fast. It’s all about science, and scientists haven’t pinned the problem on pesticides, said Rick Bell, vice president of government affairs and industry stewardship at Arrow Exterminators, Atlanta. However, “pesticides are an easy target,” he said.
Greg Baumann, vice president of training and technical services at Orkin, said Oregon’s response is “another case of a quick reaction” by regulators and media. “Our No. 1 priority is to ensure decisions are based on sound science,” he said. Everything else that’s happening is the result of skipping this important step, he added.
How New Labels May Change Your Business
The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) continues to meet with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ensure agency officials understand how pest management professionals use these products to control nuisance, structural and public health pests in and around buildings, said NPMA Technical Director Jim Fredericks.
The association also is working with state regulatory officials (Association of Structural Pest Control Regulatory Officials and the State-FIFRA Issues Research and Evaluation Group) to get clarification on the new label language.
ASPCRO President John Scott said “some additional guidance is needed.” EPA is open to discussion and ASPCRO will offer suggestions that meet EPA’s intent and provide clear, workable language that all states are comfortable enforcing. The association also is working to ensure uses are allowed to control bees that pose a public health threat, said Scott.
NPMA expects clarification by early winter; the new labels will appear in mid-2014. NPMA will provide guidance on how the changes will impact uses well before then, said Fredericks.
In the meantime, pest management professionals need to consider how their services may be affected, especially those involving treatments to foliage and landscape plants, said Rick Bell, vice president of government affairs and industry stewardship, Arrow Exterminators, Atlanta.
Say a customer has azalea bushes where ants are tending aphids, and the ants are trailing into the house. The new labels may prevent PMPs from treating the bushes to control the ants until blooms drop.
As the language currently stands, there may be weeks or months where no applications could be made, said Scott. And, states may enforce the language differently. This “could make it tough to keep customers happy,” Bell said. Arrow is exploring potential protocol and formulation changes.
PMPs definitely should evaluate their treatment approaches, said Joe Barile, technical services lead for Bayer’s professional pest management business. If new labels prevent foliar application during bloom time, other control options may exist, such as baits.
In the meantime, NPMA and ASPCRO plan to hold an educational workshop for EPA employees this month on pollinator health and how the products that PMPs use affect those pollinators. NPMA’s government affairs and technical committees continue to evaluate the issue. (Stay tuned for further coverage from PCT on this meeting.)
More changes on the horizon. EPA accelerated its registration review schedule for neonicotinoids because of uncertainties about these pesticides and their potential effects on bees, the agency said.
The agency’s docket for imidacloprid opened in December 2008, and for nithiazine in March 2009. To better ensure a “level playing field” for the chemical class, and to take advantage of new research as it becomes available, EPA moved the docket openings for the remaining neonicotinoids on the schedule (acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam) to 2012. The review should be complete by 2019.
Health Canada also is re-evaluating clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam and related products.
EPA reported, “If at any time during our review new data indicate that the labeled use of neonicotinoid pesticides are causing unreasonable risks to pollinators or failing to meet the safety standards in federal pesticide law, the agency will take appropriate action.”
While EPA certainly is focused on neonicotinoids, other products that potentially pose a risk to pollinators also will be reviewed.
“When we met with EPA they made it clear that the label changes for neonicotinoids was the first of several phases,” Rosenberg said. “Subsequent phases could occur as soon as next winter and will likely involve other classes of insecticides.”
Conservationists want more. The Xerces Society wants the agency to take a “neonicotinoid time out,” similar to the European Union’s ban on the insecticides, said Xerces’ Black. In April, the EU voted to suspend use of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam for two years while it investigates their impact on pollinator health.
Bayer CropScience said the EU ban was based on a study with inconsistencies and lacked scientific validation and peer review. Harrington called the ban “an unjustifiable overreaction” and to suggest it will “demonstrably improve bee health is extremely disingenuous.” On Syngenta’s website, Chief Operating Officer John Atkin said banning the products “would not save a single hive and it is time that everyone focused on addressing the real causes of declining bee populations.” Syngenta produces thiamethoxam.
Black and other groups are pushing EPA to speed up the process of registration review, and would like it to adopt a “rapid mechanism” to remove products found to negatively impact the environment.
EPA approves pesticides with “very little evidence” of their impact on non-target organisms like pollinators, said Black, but pulling a product from market in light of evidence occurs at a “glacial pace.” He claimed EPA’s current risk assessment studies are “woefully flawed” and the money manufacturers spend on non-target research is minimal compared to the other costs of developing an active ingredient.
In March, four beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups filed a lawsuit against EPA for what they say is the agency’s failure to protect pollinators from clothianidin and thiamethoxam. The suit said existing pesticide labels are inadequate, enforcement lax, and the practice of “conditional registration” rushed these pesticides to market with little public oversight.
According to Barile, manufacturers are obligated by law to provide data on specified non-target organisms. The industry is in the process of expanding that model in regard to pollinator safety, he said.
People don’t understand how much testing pesticides undergo, said Cisse Spragins, CEO, Rockwell Labs. “As an industry we need to talk about that,” she said.
Manufacturers, Association Officials Respond To Pollinator Issues
“Given the issue is not focused on PMPs it is difficult to say what the economic impact might be. Certainly, important products, including the neonicotinoids, are part of the discussion and some are being given extra regulatory attention to ensure they can be used safely around pollinators.”
“Our industry supports best management practices — first and foremost that all applicators read and follow all product label directions. Where pollinators are concerned, this means reading and following all label directions when applying insecticides outdoors.”
“Many (special interest groups) exist for this type of thing — it is their ‘cause’ to eliminate pesticides in any way on any front they can. From a specific issue perspective, the pollinator issue seems to be more complicated (than the organophosphates issue of a previous era) — we are not dealing with alleged ‘human’ effects, but rather effects on an organism that is not completely understood from a behavior standpoint, on an industry that is not necessarily well monitored (the beekeeping industry), with a thousand variables in the environments the bees are exposed to. While the special interest groups want to make it solely a pesticide issue and it is easier because we know many compounds are toxic to bees (including ones that are not being attacked), it is clearly a lot more complicated than that.”
“The numerous, complex factors at play in pollinator health — including varroa mites, nutrition, genetic diversity and beekeeping practices — have been affirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture , U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and many researchers, scientists and beekeepers. It is important for all stakeholders involved in developing science-based solutions for improving pollinator health to understand these factors and form a holistic approach.”
“Both the specialty pesticide and crop protection industry support best management practices in the use of our products. This includes following all label directions, which contain detailed information on where the product can and cannot be applied; restrictions for use; proper storage; and proper disposal. Adhering to these labels helps to minimize potential risks for pollinators and other beneficial organisms, as well as the applicators themselves.”
“The label language changes issued August 15 highlighted the importance of our work with EPA. It allows us to continue being a leading voice in this dialogue.”
“Our engagement, our council and guidance is being sought to represent the specialty industry’s needs and concerns.”
“Something is happening every day on this issue and we are getting out in front where we can. We are active with our crop colleagues, having responded with registrants to EPA’s letter seeking efficacy and incident data for certain neonicotinoids. This regulatory action resulting in new pollinator advisory language for labels came by letter with registrants given just 30 days to respond. This precedent is concerning and will continue to be an area of focus for us with the agency. While this issue is focused on the neonicotinoids right now, we are preparing for activism and politics to turn attention to other insecticides.”
Flawed science = better story? The focus on neonicotinoids is a “convenient outlet for a lot of the anxiety” from the professional beekeeping community and the public, and scrutiny will be “quite high” for a short time, said Barile.
Fueling anxiety is research that shows neonicotinoids as the sole or major cause of bee decline, but these reports are based on flawed science, say industry representatives.
These studies often look at the hazards of pesticides, not exposure levels, said Spragins. (For example, neonicotinoids will kill bees — they’re insecticides and bees are insects — but what level of exposure to the insecticide impairs bee health?) “Their objective isn’t science,” she said. “It’s a public relations agenda.”
The Oregon incident added “renewed vigor” to anti-pesticide activism, said Karen Reardon, communications director, Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE). (Washington, D.C.-based RISE is the national trade association representing manufacturers, formulators, distributors and others involved with pesticides.) These groups’ claims are “mostly unfounded,” Reardon said. The real issue is about managed bees and their role as crop pollinators; PMPs don’t engage in the types of use patterns that impact managed bees.
Bee health is a complex issue, reminded Martha Craft, vice president of public relations and corporate communications at Rollins. To point the finger at a product and take it off the market thinking that’s going to fix everything is just a “knee-jerk reaction that doesn’t do any good.”
The weight of evidence clearly shows bees and other pollinators can safely coexist and thrive with modern agricultural and plant protection technologies like neonicotinoid insecticides, said Pat Willenbrock, brand manager, Syngenta Professional Pest Management. “Syngenta’s thiamethoxam has been used safely around the world for many years. Using best management practices and following label use directions will minimize exposure and overall risk to bees.”
Pollinators in the News
3/30/12 – Science: Field Research on Bees Raises Concern About Low-Dose Pesticides
4/20/12 – Science: A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees
4/20/12 – Science: Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production
2/1/13 – Yahoo! News: EU Proposal to Protect Bees Stirs Hornets’ Nest
2/20/13 – BusinessWeek.com: To Revive Honey Bees, Europe Proposes A Pesticide Ban
3/15/13 – NYTimes.com: Hoping To Save Bees, Europe To Vote On Pesticide Ban
4/30/13 – WSJ.com: EU to Restrict ‘Bee-Harming’ Pesticides
5/24/13 – FoxNews.com: EU Pushes Through Restrictions on Pesticides, Aiming to Protect Bees
4/3/13 – CNN.com: Opinion – What’s Killing The Bees?
4/4/13 – CBSNews.com: Deepening Honey Bee Crisis Creates Worry Over Food Supply
4/10/13 – CBSNews.com: Pesticide Blamed For Declining Bee Population
4/11/13 – LATimes.com: The Bee Hero – Fighting The Largest Die-Off Of Bees In U.S. History
4/29/13 – WashingtonPost.com: British Beekeepers Protest Outside Parliament to Call For Pesticide Ban
5/1/13 – Yahoo! News: Best Rx For Bees? Their Own Honey
5/3/13 – WashingtonPost.com: Why are Bees Dying? The U.S. And Europe Have Different Theories
5/7/13 – TIME.com: Colony Collapse Disorder is Killing Honey Bees, and We Don’t Know How to Stop It
5/21/13 – Reuters.com: U.S Pesticide Makers Seek Answers as Bee Losses Sting Agriculture
7/11/13 – HuffingtonPost.com: Interesting Tidbits About The Buzzers, and How You Can Save Them From Disappearing
7/25/13 – NBCNews.com: Honey Bees in Trouble? Blame Farm Chemicals, Study Says
7/29/13 – HuffingtonPost.com: Colony Collapse Disorder — It Won’t be Solved With the Banning of a Single Pesticide
8/8/13 – USNews.com: Bee Colony Collapses are More Complex Than We Thought
8/16/13 – NBCNews.com: EPA Issues New Pesticide Labels to Warn About Hazards to Bees
8/19/13 – Time Magazine: A World Without Bees: The Price We’ll Pay If We Don’t Figure Out What’s Killing the Honeybee
September 2013 – Scientific American Magazine: Return of the Natives: How Wild Bees Will Save Our Agricultural System
9/25/13 – Forbes.com: While Global Bee Colonies Struggle, European Politicians Seem Determined To Kill Them Off
Source: PPMA (www.npmapestworld.org/ppma)
Not all swayed by claims. Others simply don’t buy the neonicotinoid link. Australia heavily uses neonicotinoids and has no issues with bee health, said Spragins. “How do you explain that?” she asked.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture rejected a request by environmental groups to ban neonicotinoids, citing the lack of scientific evidence linking them to recent declines in honey bee populations.
The general narrative that bees are disappearing is “just not true,” said Dwinell. Florida has seen the number of colonies kept by registered beekeepers increase in every one of the last four years. “We have more colonies of bees in Florida than we’ve ever had,” he said.
Taking bees out of houses has become a “thriving industry,” Dwinell said. Officials recently met to address the problem in one town of honey bees invading neighborhoods and swimming pools.
EPA reported that while winter hive losses remain high at about 30 percent, the number of cases attributed to Colony Collapse Disorder has declined over the last five years.
Public opinion is pro-bee. Based on flawed research or not, reports of declining honey bee health are compelling. And after 37 million honey bees were found dead on a farm in Elmwood, Ontario, a few weeks after the Oregon incident, protecting honey bees became an even easier issue to get behind.
“Who can be against a honey bee?” asked Bell. “It’s like saying you’re against kids.”
A quick Google search shows support for pollinators is high. Also available online are anti-pesticide petitions signed by millions around the world.
More than 1.25 million people in partnership with groups Avaaz, Change.org, Credo, Pesticide Action Network, Beyond Pesticides and Neal’s Yard Remedies/Care2.com have called on EPA to suspend clothianidin.
Nearly 220,000 on Credo asked the agency to follow the European Union and immediately suspend the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.
More than 180,000 have signed a petition on Change.org asking EPA to ban Bayer’s neonicotinoids specifically.
A survey by Sierra Club Canada found two-thirds of the 1,000 Canadians polled supported a federal ban on neonics. If the federal government does not act to ban the chemicals, 95 percent of respondents supporting a ban would support action by their provincial government.
Public scrutiny is moving beyond agriculture. More than 175,000 people signed a Friends of the Earth petition asking Home Depot and Lowe’s to stop selling plants “pre-poisoned” with neonicotinoids. In August, Home Depot acknowledged the request and said it would explore the matter further.
So where does this leave you? Besides adhering to new use restrictions, you may find customers ask how your practices impact pollinators.
Bee health is an “emerging issue” and PMPs “need to be part of the discussion” with customers and public policy makers, said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs, NPMA.
Here’s what you need to do:
Stay informed — Follow news reports, learn about the issues and how you may need to respond. Create a Google Alert for bee news in your region. Two valuable sources of information are the NPMA and PPMA, which are monitoring issues surrounding pollinator health and share relevant information as it becomes available.
Retrain employees — New labels require new training. Technicians must review and follow labels in their entirety, including the environmental hazard and precautionary statements, prior to product application. Fundamental training on label comprehension, compliance and application safety is “probably more important now than it’s been in a while,” said Bayer’s Barile. “You just can’t get away with saying, ‘I’m doing the best I can.’”
Technicians need greater awareness. Orkin has reminded employees to be “extremely careful about any type of pollinators, especially honey bees,” said Baumann. They are not insects you want to accidently control, he said.
Everyone who uses a pesticide has an obligation to use it properly, said RISE’s Reardon.
Go beyond — PMPs “need to think beyond the label” at this point, said Henriksen. In a product stewardship alert, NPMA reminded PMPs that many pesticides — not just neonicotinoids — are toxic to bees when exposed to direct treatment or residues, so don’t apply these products when bees are visiting the treatment area or if the applied product may drift.
Also be aware of backyard beekeeping in neighboring yards.
EPA Says New Pesticide Labels Will Better Protect Bees and Other Pollinators
In an ongoing effort to protect bees and other pollinators, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has developed new pesticide labels that prohibit use of some neonicotinoid pesticide products where bees are present.
“Multiple factors play a role in bee colony declines, including pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking action to protect bees from pesticide exposure and these label changes will further our efforts,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
The new labels will have a bee advisory box and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions. Affected products contain the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. EPA will work with pesticide manufacturers to change labels so that they will meet the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) safety standard.
In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA released a comprehensive scientific report on honey bee health, showing scientific consensus that there are a complex set of stressors associated with honey bee declines, including loss of habitat, parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.
The agency continues to work with beekeepers, growers, pesticide applicators, pesticide and seed companies, and federal and state agencies to reduce pesticide drift dust and advance best management practices. EPA recently released new enforcement guidance to federal, state and tribal enforcement officials to enhance investigations of bee kill incidents.
Address questions — Stay “one step ahead” of customer inquiries and own the responsibility for educating them about your pest management practices as they relate to pollinator health, said Henriksen.
The broader issue of bee health is really important, said Reardon. “It’s an opportunity to do some education.”
Arrow Exterminators’ Bell suggested developing “an elevator speech for the front yard.”
Acknowledge customers’ concerns. Then tell them you take your environmental stewardship seriously and rely on an Integrated Pest Management approach, said Reardon. Explain how neonicotinoids are important tools, among others, to control destructive pests. Assure them you read and follow the product’s label, which includes specific actions to avoid harming non-target pollinators.
Most important, be accurate, said Barile, who has helped numerous PMPs respond to customer questions.
Remind them your priority is protecting their health and property, and that stinging insects send half a million people to emergency rooms every year, said Henriksen. Bees are not going extinct, said Dwinell. “If they’re in people’s houses you need to do something about them,” he said.
Become a steward — It’s essential you become “a very good steward in your community” — and not just because of the negative publicity — and make sure customers are comfortable with your service performance, said Barile. “No applicator wants to be purposely responsible for negatively affecting non-targets,” he said.
“Everybody talks about an Integrated Pest Management approach, but now we have to throw pollinators in there,” explained Christina Grozinger, director of the entomology department and the Center for Pollinator Research at Pennsylvania State University. “Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management is the way to think about it.”
Get involved — Consider becoming active in pollinator organizations. Orkin has supported The Pollinator Partnership since 2008. The group initially came to Orkin because it thought the pest control industry was harming pollinators, said Craft, but learned both groups shared a concern for pollinators. Orkin experts have presented at the group’s national conferences and collaborated on educational pieces, including a poster for children used by the National Science Teachers Association.
Get to know the beekeeper associations in your area so you don’t have adversarial relationships, Craft added. Orkin has a link to a list of North American beekeepers on its website, so customers can seek hive removal assistance. Sometimes removal isn’t an option, such as with Africanized bees or if the beekeepers don’t want to introduce mites or pathogens that might wipe out their hives.
Teach customers — Educate customers on how they can help pollinators in their own yards and neighborhoods. Although the label changes are directed at protecting the health of managed bees to pollinate crops, experts say native pollinators will benefit as well.
And homeowners — not just professionals — play a role, too. “Everybody has some complicity” in bees’ declining health, said University of Illinois bee researcher May Berenbaum. Homeowners who rid their lawns of dandelions and clover are reducing foraging opportunities for bees, she added. When bees are well fed they can cope better with stressors like disease, mites and pathogens. “Everyone can plant more flowers and tolerate a few more weeds,” she reminded.
Get tips for planting pollinator gardens, participating in citizen science projects, buying local honey, even becoming a backyard beekeeper, in PCT’s sister publication, A Garden Life. Read it online at http://bit.ly/16av6t2 or download the app for your tablet in the iTunes store.
Syngenta, Bayer, BASF Respond to the EU’s Suspension of Insecticides
Syngenta Chief Operating Officer John Atkin, said: “We would prefer not to take legal action but have no other choice given our firm belief that the Commission wrongly linked thiamethoxam to the decline in bee health. In suspending the product, it breached EU pesticide legislation and incorrectly applied the precautionary principle.
“Since the EU suspension of thiamethoxam was announced, farmers and farmer organizations have expressed great concern that an extremely effective, low-dose product will not be available to them and will have to be replaced by much less sustainable alternatives. Modern products like thiamethoxam are essential to address the challenge of increasing European food production and reducing the reliance on imports.”
Syngenta called on all stakeholders to concentrate on practical solutions to bee health, which most experts agree is damaged by disease, viruses and the loss of habitat and nutrition. The company confirmed its commitment to support the expansion of Operation Pollinator across Europe and the Bee Health Action Plan, which was published in April 2013.
For more information on Syngenta’s contribution to bee health visit www.operationpollinator.com.
Only around half of the member states voted for the proposed restrictions. The European Commission could have taken the bold decision to focus on the real issues surrounding bee health such as the varroa mite, bee diseases and viruses, and the need to provide more nectar-rich habitats. Bayer CropScience is extremely disappointed that they, instead, took the controversial decision to restrict useful products with a long track record of safe use. European agriculture will be less sustainable as a result.
The company is concerned that restricting the use of these neonicotinoids in crops such as maize, oilseed rape and sunflowers will put at risk farmers’ ability to tackle the destructive pests that can severely damage crops and restrict their capability to grow abundant, high-quality, affordable food in Europe.
Bayer CropScience remains convinced that neonicotinoids are safe for bees when used responsibly and properly according to the label instructions. The company will work together with all relevant stakeholders and authorities in the Member States to handle the complex consequences of this decision and help farmers tackle important pests that can severely impair their ability to grow high-quality food. At the same time, the company also reserves the right to review its legal options.
To read more about Bayer’s commitment to bees, visit www.beecare.bayer.com.
“The decision regarding fipronil was derived from an assessment that focused heavily on new technical areas for which no established regulatory evaluation criteria are yet available. Moreover, sound data from field studies that underpin the safe use of our product for bees were not considered sufficiently,” said Jürgen Oldeweme, senior vice president, Global Product Safety and Regulatory Affairs, BASF Crop Protection. “We are certain that Europe can achieve both — the protection of pollinators and the support of European agriculture — but for that all stakeholders must engage in a comprehensive action plan to address the real root causes of the decline in bee health.”
Over the last years, BASF has gained a broad understanding of the factors that impact bee health by working together with scientists, farmers and beekeepers. Using this knowledge, the company has delivered practical, tested solutions to improve bee health, such as recommending the introduction of flowering strips to support proper bee nutrition within farmland. Another proactive step is BASF’s partnership with the Canadian company NOD Apiary Products to offer European beekeepers Mite Away Quick Strips, an innovative solution to control the varroa destructor mite in beehives, a serious mite that impairs bee health. These initiatives illustrate how bees and agriculture can co-exist.
“We will support the European Commission in the development of extensive measures that can benefit bees while securing food production in Europe. We do not believe that the planned restriction of fipronil uses will accomplish that,” added Oldeweme.
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT magazine. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
For More Information Visit these links from the EPA: