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Court Overturns EPA Approval of Bee-Killing Pesticide

A panel of federal judges overruled the EPA's approval of a pesticide linked to bee deaths. Credit: PANNA
A panel of federal judges overruled the EPA's approval of a pesticide linked to bee deaths. Credit: PANNA
September 11, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO – An agricultural pesticide that has been linked to the collapse of bee colonies soon may be off the market.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency was wrong to approve sulfoxaflor because the agency's studies couldn't prove the pesticide is safe for bees.

"Even the EPA acknowledged that it is highly toxic to bees," said Michele Colopy, program director of the Pollinator Stewardship Council, one of the groups that filed the suit. "They just hoped that they could mitigate the risk by label guidelines and things, which never really works terribly well."

Agro-chemical companies blame bee deaths on a combination of factors, including disease and predators. Experts say that if the bees die off, they'd take a third of this country's crops with them. California's $3 billion almond crop, for example, is entirely dependent on bees for pollination.

Colopy also lauded the decision because it stated that sulfoxaflor is part of a subclass of neonicotinoids that are thought to be harmful to bees - which means other, similar pesticides might be scrutinized next.

"We are hoping this will encourage EPA to tighten up their Tier 2 testing," she said, "and to start looking at some of these other products where maybe they had some flawed data that they collected."

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation granted temporary permission to use sulfoxaflor on a limited basis this summer, but has not signed off on widespread use. Regardless, sulfoxaflor will become illegal nationwide in 45 days, unless pesticide manufacturers request a new hearing or appeal to the Supreme Court.

The National Honeybee Advisory Board, American Honey Producers Association, American Beekeeping Federation and several individual beekeepers filed the suit, represented by Earthjustice. The full court opinion is online at

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA