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Pesticides Linked to Growing Number of Bee Kills

Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network, (916) 216-1082

June 18, 2012


Pesticides Linked to Growing Number of Bee Kills

As National Pollinator Week Begins, Beekeepers & Environmental Groups Press EPA to Take Action on Neonicotinoid Pesticides

As more and more bee kills are reported across the United States, beekeepers are issuing a plea to Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Lisa Jackson to take immediate action to protection pollinators from pesticides. The call comes as federal regulators celebrate national “Pollinator Week” starting today, and as EPA weighs a legal petition brought to the agency by some thirty beekeepers and environmental organizations.

“Beekeepers can’t afford to wait much longer,” said Jim Doan, a beekeeper and owner of Doan Family Farms in Hamlin, New York. “EPA has a responsibility to act quickly to protect beekeepers, their livelihood and their property. Pesticides, especially neonicotinoids are increasingly implicated as one of the most critical factors in the growing bee kills — like those in my operations.”

From New York to Ohio and Minnesota, beekeepers are reporting extraordinarily large bee die-offs, due to what they see as the increasing use of pesticides on corn seeds near where their bees forage. The die-offs are similar to what beekeepers have reported in the past few weeks in Canada, as officials find significant amounts of neonicotinoids in  dead bees. Most of these incidents will never even get investigations — conducted on state-by-state basis. New York, for example, refused to investigate Doans' bee die-off and forced him to spend his own time and resources on the matter.

In late March, over twenty-five beekeepers and three environmental organizations filed a legal petition with EPA urging the agency to take action on the neonicotinoid clothianidin, citing the agency’s ability to act quickly when a pesticide poses “imminent harm” under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. On average, the US Department of Agriculture reports that beekeepers have been losing over 30% of their honey bee colonies each year since 2006 — but some many more times that number. The agency has yet to make a decision on the petition, but beekeepers expect they will do so in the coming weeks.

“As bee kills come to light, we are unraveling the nearly pervasive use of ‘systemic’ pesticides in the nation’s corn fields, and the implications for pollinators,” said Heather Pilatic, Communications Director at Pesticide Action Network, representing one of the organizations on the legal petition. “Given the science, Administrator Jackson should take decisive action to protect pollinators from clothianidin and other neonicotinoids. 2018 is simply not fast enough.”

E.P.A.’s current timeline for making a decision on the safety of neonicotinoids for honey bees ends in 2018. Any implementation plans would take years beyond that to be set into motion.

According to USDA and industry projections, at least 94% of the nation’s 92 million acres of corn will be treated with one of two neonicotinoids this year, both manufactured by Bayer. Over 1 million acres of corn alone are planted in Doan’s home state of New York, and growing, more than any other crop except for hay.

The science around the impacts of neonicotinoid products on bees continues to grow as federal policymakers are slow to respond. Pesticides and Honey Bees: State of the Science documents evidence that pesticides are a key factor in explaining honey bee declines, both directly and in tandem with two leading co-factors, pathogens and poor nutrition. These studies, in U.S. and in Europe, have shown that small amounts of neonicotinoids—both alone and in combination with other pesticides—can cause impaired communication, disorientation, decreased longevity, suppressed immunity and disruption of brood cycles in honeybees. Scientists from Purdue University and a multi-year series of studies from Italy point to toxic dust, or neonicotinoid-contaminated powder, from recently planted corn fields as key pesticide exposure pathways for bees.

Neonicotinoids are a relatively new class of systemic, neurotoxic pesticides that are known to be particularly toxic to honeybees and have rapidly taken over the global insecticide market since their introduction in the 1990s. Neonicotinoids (like imidacloprid and its successor product clothianidin) are used as seed treatments in hundreds of crops from corn to almonds. These products can persist for years in the soil, and, as systemics, permeate the plants to be expressed as pollen, nectar and guttation droplets (water exuded from plants). Honeybee exposure to this class of pesticides is widespread and in the U.S. the rate of seed treatment with clothianidin increased five-fold (0.25 > 1.25 mg/seed) around the same time that CCD symptoms were first reported in the U.S. Bees rely on corn pollen as a key protein source and are known to collect and bring back to the hive contaminated pollen.

“EPA has approved a pesticide that harms bees,” said Steve Ellis, a migratory beekeeper with bees in Minnesota and California, recently profiled on NBC’s Nightly News for his losses, and a co-petitioner. “The agency owes it to rural communities to provide tools, protections and support that allow corn farmers and beekeepers to prosper.”


Available for Interviews:

Jim Doan, beekeeper and owner of Doan Family Farms in Hamlin, New York: (585) 732-5370,

Steve Ellis, beekeeper and owner of Old Mill Honey Co., based in Minnesota and California: (651) 357-8280.

Heather Pilatic, PhD, Co-Director at Pesticide Action Network and author of Pesticides and Honey Bees: State of the Science: (415) 694-8596.

Peter Jenkins, attorney at Center for Food Safety and one of the co-petitioners:

John Kepner, program director at Beyond Pesticides and one of the co-petitioners:

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