Reclaiming the future of food and farming

100+ Scientists Call on Obama’s Bee Task Force to Take Action on Pesticides

                                                                                                                                                                                 For immediate release: November 24, 2014
Contact: Paul Towers, PAN, 916-216-1082,

100+ Scientists Call on Obama’s Bee Task Force to Take Action on Pesticides

Washington, DC – In a letter submitted for today’s White House “listening sessions” deadline, over 100 scientists from diverse disciplines cited the growing body of evidence that neonicotinoids and other systemic pesticides harm bees. These scientists called on leaders of President Barack Obama’s Pollinator Health Task Force to take action on pesticides to protect and promote healthy populations of bees and other pollinators.  

“Bees have been quietly pollinating our crops for millennia, but now they need our help. It is vitally important that we take steps to reduce exposure of bees and other wildlife to these systemic, persistent neurotoxins,” said Dave Goulson, PhD, a bee expert and biology professor at the University of Sussex, and a leader of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) global Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.

The 108 scientists — whose areas of expertise include entomology, agronomy, ecology, ecotoxicology — called on Task Force co-chairs U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Gina McCarthy and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Secretary Tom Vilsack to place a moratorium on use of neonicotinoid pesticides in the United States, and increase investment, research and funding for growers to adopt alternatives.

Almost a year after Europe successfully implemented a moratorium on neonicotinoids, federal policymakers in the U.S. have yet to take any substantive action. Bee declines across the country have continued at unprecedented rates — over 30% annually — with significant ramifications for beekeepers’ livelihoods, crops that rely on pollination and the agricultural economy. EPA has refused to finish its review for clothianidin and thiamethoxam, as well as other neonicotinoids, before 2018.

“The President’s Task Force should listen to the body of science that links pesticides to bee harm and bee declines,” said Jim Frazier, PhD, an emeritus entomology professor at Pennsylvania State University and commercial beekeeper advisor who specializes in chemical ecology. “These systemic pesticides are not only lethal to pollinators, but at low doses can disrupt critical brain functions and reduce their immunity — leaving them susceptible to common pathogens. The weight of the scientific evidence certainly incriminates neonicotinoids, in line with the 2013 European Food Safety Agency’s review of 800-plus publications that led to the current moratorium on certain neonicotinoids.”

The IUCN’s June 2014 “Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA)” — a review of over 800 studies by 29 independent researchers — documents significant harms to bees and ecosystems from neonicotinoids. Scientists submitting the letter today join others around the globe calling for new, dramatic restrictions on bee-harming pesticides in the United States and beyond. The report also suggests that the current regulatory system has failed to capture the range of impacts of these pesticide products. And it suggests the impacts on ecosystems can, in turn, have even greater impacts on food and farming in the United States.  

“Native bees are important contributors to crop pollination — not only do they serve as our insurance policy when supplies of honey bees are low or variable, but they often contribute as much or more to fruit and vegetable pollination as honey bees do. They can complement the actions of honey bees by flying under different weather conditions or visiting different parts of the plant — leading to more production. In all of these ways, they enhance farmer's abilities to get their crops pollinated,” said Claire Kremen, PhD, a conservation biology professor at University of California - Berkeley, and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute. “Policymakers must protect native pollinator habitat on farms and ensure that their populations are not damaged due to harmful pesticides.”

As more studies link pesticides to bee harm and declines, more studies show that neonicotinoid seed treatments aren’t serving farmers or promoting pollination. In a study released in October, EPA noted: “Published data indicate that in most cases there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment.”

Neonicotinoids are an increasingly widely used class of systemic insecticides that are absorbed by plants and transported throughout the plant’s vascular tissue, making the plant potentially toxic to insects. They are commonly used in commodity agriculture as seed treatments, and also as foliar and granular treatments in nurseries. Neonicotinoids including imidacloprid (Bayer), clothianidin (Bayer), thiamethoxam (Syngenta) and dinotefuran (Mitsui Chemicals) first came into heavy use in the mid-2000s. Additional systemic pesticides that similarly disrupt brain function like sulfoxaflor (Dow) are slated to come to market soon.


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