The Story, followed by an Editorial Comment from Tom Theobald
On Tuesday a judge in the Northern District of California delivered a crushing blow to the nation’s beekeepers and imperiled honey bees. The judge ruled against the beekeepers and public interest advocates in a lawsuit seeking to protect honey bees and the broader environment from unregulated harms caused by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) lax policies for seeds coated with certain insecticides known to cause massive die-offs of honey bees.
“It is astounding that a judge, EPA or anyone with any common sense would not regulate this type of toxic pesticide use, especially when the seed-coatings are so broadly applied and there is so much at risk. Study after study has shown that seeds coated with these chemicals are a major culprit in catastrophic bee-kills. Now more than ever our country’s beekeepers, environment and food system deserve protection from agrichemical interests, and it is EPA’s job to deliver it,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Director of Center for Food Safety.
The seed-coatings in question are the bee-killing neonicotinoids, or “neonics”, which are strongly linked to the record-high colony mortality suffered by commercial beekeepers, as well as to water pollution and risks to birds and other beneficial species. Corn and soybean seeds, in particular, coated with these chemicals are planted across nearly 150 million acres of the United States, in what is by far the most extensive type of insecticide application in the nation.
EPA has exempted the seeds from regulation or mandatory labeling, despite their known toxicity. This exemption was the basis of the lawsuit filed by Center for Food Safety (CFS) in the public interest and on behalf of several impacted beekeepers.
“The broader implications of this decision drive the nails in the bee industry’s coffin. Of course as a beekeeper I am concerned about my livelihood, but the public at large should also be alarmed. More than one-third of the average person’s diet is generated by pollinators that I help manage,” said Jeff Anderson, a California and Minnesota-based commercial beekeeper and honey producer, who was the lead plaintiff in the case.
The judge dismissed the case on an administrative procedure basis, not on the fundamental question of whether the exempted seeds are harming honey bees. In fact, the judge stated in his conclusion, “the Court is most sympathetic to the plight of our bee population and beekeepers. Perhaps the EPA should have done more to protect them, but such policy decisions are for the agency to make.”
CFS is representing the plaintiffs in the case and says the group is considering all options.
Impacts to bees from neonics are well-documented, as are impacts to the nation’s beekeepers. For example, in 2015, one plaintiff in the case, Bret Adee, co-owner of the nation’s largest commercial beekeeping operation, suffered approximately $800,000 in damages in just one bee-kill incident from toxic neonicotinoid-laced dust during planting of corn fields near his hives. Due to EPA’s exemption for the coated seeds and their dust, Mr. Adee could obtain no enforcement action to protect his bees. In effect, the nation’s beekeepers have been told to fend for themselves as EPA will not enforce any mandatory requirements from the federal pesticide law to protect their bees. Neonics also negatively impact soil health by harming beneficial insects, and can have dire effects on other non-target species, like birds.
Efforts by the attorneys from CFS to obtain relevant public documents were blocked by EPA. EPA gave CFS attorneys only 200 of 5,000 pages of documents relevant to EPA’s 2013 statements regarding the exemption for these pesticide-coated seeds. When CFS moved to get the full record, the Court ordered EPA to produce the rest of the documents to the Court only, which the Court itself reviewed, without allowing the plaintiffs to see them.
The plaintiffs in the case were beekeepers Jeff Anderson, Bret Adee, and David Hackenberg; farmers Lucas Criswell and Gail Fuller; and the Pollinator Stewardship Council, American Bird Conservancy, Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA), and the Center for Food Safety. The Judge’s Order was issued on Nov. 21 in the case of Anderson et al. v. McCarthy, No. 3:16-cv-00068-WHA (N.D. Cal.).
Center for Food Safety’s mission is to empower people, support farmers, and protect the earth from the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture. Through groundbreaking legal, scientific, and grassroots action, we protect and promote your right to safe food and the environment.
Please join our more than 750,000 consumer and farmer advocates across the country at www.centerforfoodsafety.org. Twitter: @CFSTrueFood, @CFS_Pres
From Tom Theobald
In a crushing defeat for the beekeepers and their bees, United States District Judge William Alsup has found in favor of the EPA, in the suit filed last January over seeds coated with neonicotinoid pesticides.
While Judge Alsup sympathized with beekeepers, his decision was based on legal technicalities. Essentially he ruled that it was the responsibility of the EPA to make these policy decisions, not the courts. I’m not a lawyer, so that’s my layman’s understanding of the decision.
AT issue was the revolutionary group of neonicotinoid insecticides.
First introduced in 1994, they soon became the most widely used pesticides in the world.
They were touted as “safer” since they targeted neural connections which insects have many of , but mammals few.
For bees, insects and lower life-forms they are the most deadly pesticides ever created.
Using DDT as a reference point of 1, the neonics are 5,000 to 10,000 times more toxic to lower level life forms.
They are mainly applied as seed-coatings on corn, wheat, canola, soybeans, and many other crops.
They protect the seed and the entire plant from pests; they are water soluble and penetrate the entire plant, roots, stem, leaves, flowers, pollen and nectar. Their bee-killing poison persists for the entire growing season, and in the soil and groundwater for years.
These toxic seed treatments are marketed as long term pest control products, not just to protect the seed, but the plant as well.
But only 10% of the pesticide on the treated seed is absorbed into the plant; while 90% goes into the soil and groundwater where it can persist for years.
Given the danger these pesticides pose to bees, you would think the EPA would monitor and regulate them closely. But you would be wrong; the EPA has set out to conceal the massive scale of their use.
Here is the back story. In 1959, the year of maximum use for DDT, 80 million pounds were applied in the U.S. The EPA reports annual use of neonicotinoids at about 3.5 million pounds. However, by the most conservative estimate, neonics are 5,000 times more poisonous to bees than DDT, so that 3.5 million lbs. of neonic poison is the toxic equivalent of about 17.5 BILLION pounds of DDT. Remember though, that is just 10% of the actual neonics used – the other 90% goes into the soil and water.
America’s annual pesticide load of neonicotinoids is the toxic equivalent of 400 to 600 billion pounds of DDT, every year, year after year.
For honey bees, solitary bees, butterflies, earthworms, soil organisms, bats, insectivorous birds. – this is the most massive poisoning of the earth in human history.
So what did the EPA do, in terms of regulating neonics?
They deliberateley excluded 90% of the neonicotinods from oversight and regulation, by defining them as ’treated items’ – rather than pesticides.
They ruled that a ‘pesticide coated seed’ was not a ‘pesticide use’ – but a ‘treated item’ – exempt from pesticide regulations, despite their use on over 200 million acres of crops and the carnage that has ensued.The EPA has subverted Federal Law through administrative fiat; this willful corruption of the spirit of the law is nothing less than criminal. And while Judge Alsup’s decision may conform to the letter of the law, it ignores the spirit and intent of our pesticide laws and is a miscarriage of justice nevertheless.
For years beekeepers have appealed for help to their representatives, the regulators, and now the courts, with no help or support from any of them. Beekeeping is a small industry and apparently the only remaining power we have is in the Court of Public Opinion. While there has been a rising wave of public awareness, it isn’t nearly enough. Rather than own up to its manipulation of the law and its failed decision making, the EPA chooses instead to use your tax dollars to defend its conduct in court. The only reason neonics are so profitable is because billions of dollars in environmental damages go unaccounted for. All of us are paying the price, not just beekeepers, but the wider public, whose environment is being destroyed.
We must have the support of the American public, or we are done for, along with a wide sweep of the environment. As beekeepers we are on the ropes and we need your help. The pesticide-coated seeds issue is fundamental to beekeeping. Lead plaintiff Jeff Anderson told me:
“In my opinion this decision opens the door to any pesticide technology that can be hung on a seed.”
This court decision is even more sinister than it appears, the EPA has betrayed its most basic responsibility: To protect the health of the American people and their environment.
This has to end.