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Ninth Circuit Stings EPA for Approving Bee-Killing Pesticide

A federal court says the pesticide sulfoxaflor should not have been registered because it can kill bees and other pollinators. Credit: Deborah C. Smith.
A federal court says the pesticide sulfoxaflor should not have been registered because it can kill bees and other pollinators. Credit: Deborah C. Smith.
September 11, 2015

HELENA, Mont. - A pesticide that kills bees should not have been cleared for agricultural use by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a federal appeals court.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Dow Chemical's sulfoxaflor was not thoroughly researched when it comes to impacts on bees.

Michele Colopy, program director of the Pollinator Stewardship Council, one of the groups that filed the suit, said the chemical is proven to be highly toxic to bees and other pollinators - and those impacts need better assessment.

"EPA did not follow through with its own requirement of getting scientific-based evidence to prove that the pesticide was not going to adversely impact pollinators," she said.

Pollination services are worth at least $20 billion a year in the United States, Colopy said.

There is a waiting period before the decision is final, and Dow could ask for a rehearing. Sulfoxaflor has been available in several name-brand pesticide mixtures for agricultural crops. It's a systemic neurotoxin that insects ingest when they suck, chew or collect nectar and pollen from a plant.

Colopy said she welcomes another key finding in the ruling. The court stated that sulfoxaflor is a subclass of neonicotinoids, which are thought to be a factor in honeybee declines, and there are several "neonics" on the market. She said the pollinator ecosystem needs careful consideration when any pesticide is approved or used.

"It is not looking at the entire organism of a hive. It's not about just the adult forager bee," she said. "Bee colonies are an organism, and if one aspect of the workforce gets damaged, it damages the entire organism of the colony."

The pesticide is marketed as a way to manage aphids, weevils and other sap-sucking crop pests, typically used on crops that don't depend on pollinators.

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 earthjustice.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT