SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - U.S. environmental regulators illegally approved overuse of pesticides that caused honeybee colony collapse disorder, threatening agriculture throughout North America, nonprofits claim in Federal Court.
Colony collapse disorder has baffled and alarmed farmers and scientists since 2006. Worker bees abandon hives and vanish en masse, leaving behind the queen and unhatched brood, food and honey-and the hive eventually dies.
In the years since beekeepers first reported the catastrophic losses, hives across the United States have seen yearly declines averaging 35 percent.
A 2010 U.S. Department of Agriculture report blames the collapses on a combination of environmental stressors that leave worker bees susceptible to viruses, parasites, mites and other pathogens.
But a peer-reviewed report this year from the European Food Safety Authority said that recent studies show that neonicotinoid pesticides - widely used throughout the world - pose a significant risk to bees and contribute to colony collapse disorder.
In their new federal complaint, environmental groups agree.
Plaintiffs Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Sierra Club, Pesticide Action Network North America and Center for Environmental Health - and four beekeepers - sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the top two officials in its Office of Pesticide Programs, its director Steven Bradbury and deputy administrator Bob Perciasepe.
The complaint states: "Clothianidin and thiamethoxam are systemic insecticides that are taken up by a plant's vascular system as it grows and are expressed through its tissues, including flowers, pollen and nectar. They share a common mode of action that damages the central nervous system of honey bees. When bees forage on pollen or nectar from treated crops, or are otherwise exposed to even extremely small levels of these compounds, paralysis and death can result. Over the past decade, the proliferating use of the neonicotinoid class of pesticides has coincided with mass die-offs of honey bee populations in the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, documented as early as 2003-2004 in the United States, with first reported case findings in 2006."
Neonicotinoid poisons affect normal bee behavior in a number of ways that combined lead to hive death, according to the complaint.
"Honey bees are social insects that rely heavily on memory, cognition and communication to coordinate activities essential for their survival. Chronic ingestion of neonicotinoids damages foraging behavior, overall mobility and the communication by which they coordinate their activities. Neonicotinoid pesticides can also have several other indirect effects on honey bees, such as causing premature shifts in hive roles. They can impair honey bees' medium-term olfactory memory and associative learning abilities, which foraging honey bees rely on to find their way back to the hive," the complaint states.
The environmentalists accuse the EPA of turning a blind eye for years to the deliberate misuse of neonicotinoids by farmers, who ignore warnings and directions for use of the pesticides. Clothianidin and thiamethoxam are both marketed by Bayer AG under a number of brand names, and Syngenta also has worldwide distribution rights for thiamethoxam.