Shedding Light in the Darkness

Another Pesticide Threat to Bees

Bees-Collect-Nectar-from-Strawberry-FlowersFrench bee keepers are up in arms over the authorization of the insecticide sulfoxaflor they warn could sound the death knell of their already decimated bee population, reports The Telegraph. Bee hives have been hit in Europe, North America and elsewhere by a mysterious phenomenon called “colony collapse disorder”. The blight has been blamed on mites, a virus or fungus, pesticides, or a combination of factors.

With the honey harvest in France down to just 10,000 tons this year – three times less than in the 1990s – the country’s national apiculture union, UNAF, slammed what it called the “scandalous” authorization of sulfoxaflor, which attacks the central nervous system of insects.

According to UNAF, sulfoxaflor, marketed under the innocuous name Transform, acts like a neonicotinoid, a pesticide based on the chemical structure of nicotine that many blame for being at least partially responsible for plummeting bee populations.

The European Union set down a temporary ban on the use of three out of five key neonicotinoids in 2013, and is mulling a permanent ban. France is due to outlaw them all from September next year, barring exceptional circumstances where no alternatives exist.

“So why authorise a new one?,” asked Gilles Lanio UNAF president. “It’s shameful, scandalous, pitiful and irresponsible for future generations,” he told Le Monde.

Studies have blamed the chemical for harming bee reproduction and foraging by diminishing sperm quality and scrambling memory and navigation functions. It has also been linked to lower disease resistance. Neonicotinoids currently cover more than a fifth of French crops with 70 per cent of seeds from cooperatives already coated in the product.

Benoît Dattin, spokesman for makers Dow AgroSciences in France, said sulfoxaflor was at any rate not technically a neonicotinoid. “It’s been authorised in 43 countries and used on millions of hectares and no negative impact on bees or pollinators has been signaled,” he said.

In 2014, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a negative opinion on sulfoxaflor. The pesticide was qualified as ‘highly toxic to bees’ by the Authority and it identified crucial toxicity data gaps, which makes a proper risk assessment for bees impossible. Despite this EU member states authorized sulfoxaflor in July 2015, completely bypassing the pesticide regulation.

The few field studies provided by Dow indicate acute risk to bees but important information is missing on brood (progeny) toxicity, sublethal (orientation) toxicity or long term toxicity. Further, no studies on wild pollinators such as bumble bees were made. This information is nonetheless mandatory, according to EU law.

In 2015 a U.S. appeals court ruled that federal regulators erred in allowing sulfoxaflor onto the market, canceling its approval. A lawsuit had been filed in 2013 against the EPA by organizations representing the honey and honey beekeeping industry. The court found that the EPA relied on “flawed and limited data” to approve the unconditional registration of sulfoxaflor, and that approval was not supported by “substantial evidence.”

Dow had asked the EPA to approve sulfoxaflor for use on a variety of crops, including citrus, cotton, canola, strawberries, soybeans and wheat.

In 2016 the EPA announced: Following the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the registration of sulfoxaflor, EPA has reevaluated the data supporting the use of sulfoxaflor. Sulfoxaflor will now have fewer uses and additional requirements that will protect bees.

Last year, the United Nations said 40% of invertebrate pollinators – particularly bees and butterflies- risk global extinction.

The assumption by regulators around the world that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes is false, according to Prof. Ian Boyd a chief scientific adviser to the UK government.

“The current assumption underlying pesticide regulation – that chemicals that pass a battery of tests in the laboratory or in field trials are environmentally benign when they are used at industrial scales – is false,” he wrote in Science. “The effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems.”

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