New Labeling Would Help|Working Bees, EPA Says

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The EPA’s proposed pesticide labeling change to prohibit spraying during bloom is a good first step to protect contracted pollinators, but more is needed, environmentalists say.
     Following a mandate outlined in President Obama’s multi-agency task force purposed with the protection of the nation’s pollinators, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a new proposed pesticide labeling change to stop “foliar application” of pesticides during bloom, when bees contracted to provide pollination services are known to be present, the agency announced Friday.
     “Last year, beekeepers reported losing about 40 percent of honey bee colonies, threatening the viability of their livelihoods and the essential pollination services their bees provide to agriculture,” the White House said. “The continued loss of commercial honey bee colonies poses a threat to the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States, which could have profound implications for agriculture and food.”
     A report jointly issued by the EPA and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in 2013 noted that other factors besides pesticide use contribute to the bees’ decline, including a parasitic mite and a virus associated with Colony Collapse Disorder, as well as deficient genetic diversity and insufficient variety in forage options to provide adequate bee nutrition. However, the EPA acknowledges that some pesticides are “acutely toxic” to bees and other pollinators.
     Large numbers of contracted honey bee colonies are placed around crops during bloom to provide the pollination services, and direct application of toxic pesticides at that time can be disastrous. “Although the likely outcomes are counter-productive for both the beekeeper (loss of honey bee stock) and the grower (diminished pollination services), many beekeepers and growers seem not to have found ways to avoid such outcomes,” the agency noted in the proposal.
     As a result, the EPA believes “strong regulatory measures” are needed to mitigate this problem. The only exception to the proposed restriction on applying toxic pesticides during bloom would be “in accordance with a government-declared public health response,” according to the action. The agency also notes that local pollinator protection plans have been reported to reduce bee-kill, and it plans to give further consideration to this alternative during the comment review process.
     “EPA is taking an important first step to protect commercial honeybees from toxic pesticide spraying,” Lori Ann Burd, Environmental Health director at the Center for Biological Diversity was quoted as saying in the group’s response to the proposal. “This is a good start but there is much more to be done to protect our pollinators from the millions of pounds of insecticides used in this country every year.”
     The environmental group notes that this labeling proposal would only create temporary pesticide-free zones, and some pesticides are slow to break down, can build up in the environment, and can cause the entire plant to be toxic to pollinators, including plants grown from seeds treated with pesticides. In addition, the labeling restriction is intended to benefit contracted bees and would not provide a particular benefit to wild bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies and bats. “More than 100 million U.S. acres are planted with seeds drenched in bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides,” Burd said. “Countless studies have linked these toxic seeds to declines in honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bee populations, and the EPA has found that they don’t even provide any benefits to farmers. To save America’s pollinators, the EPA needs to take the next step and immediately ban neonicotinoids, especially these poison seeds.”
     The EPA requests comments on its labeling proposal, and also requests comments on an additional proposal to study the development of locally-based managed pollinator protection plans before making a determination regarding further labeling restrictions.
     Comments are due June 29.

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