Beekeepers and environmentalists called on EPA to remove a pesticide linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), citing a leaked EPA memo that discloses a critically flawed scientific support study.
The Nov. 2 memo identifies a core study underpinning the registration of the insecticide clothianidin as unsound after EPA quietly re-evaluated the pesticide just as it was getting ready to allow a further expansion of its use.
Clothianidin (product name "Poncho") has been widely used as a seed treatment on many of the country's major crops for eight growing seasons under a "conditional registration" granted while EPA waited for Bayer Crop Science, the pesticide's maker, to conduct a field study assessing the insecticide's threat to bee colony health.
Bayer's field study was the contingency on which clothianidin's conditional registration was granted in 2003. The groups are calling for an immediate stop-use order on the pesticide while the science is redone in partnership with practicing beekeepers. They claim that the initial field study guidelines, which the Bayer study failed to satisfy, were insufficiently rigorous to test whether or not clothianidin contributes to CCD in a real-world scenario: the field test evaluated the wrong crop, over an insufficient time period and with inadequate controls.
According to James Frazier, Ph.D., professor of entomology at Penn State, "Among the neonicotinoids, clothianidin is among those most toxic for honey bees, and this combined with its systemic movement in plants has produced a troubling mix of scientific results pointing to its potential risk for honey bees through current agricultural practices.
"Our own research indicates that systemic pesticides occur in pollen and nectar in much greater quantities than has been previously thought, and that interactions among pesticides occurs often and should be of wide concern."
Dr. Frazier said that the most prudent course of action would be to take the pesticide off the market while the flawed study is being redone.
With a soil half-life of up to 19 years in heavy soils, and over a year in the lightest of soils, commercial beekeepers are concerned that even an immediate stop-use of clothianidin will not save their livelihoods or hives in time.
"We are losing more than a third of our colonies each winter, but beekeepers are a stubborn, industrious bunch. We split hives, rebound as much as we can each summer, and then just eat our losses. So even these big loss numbers understate the problem," says 50-year beekeeper, David Hackenberg. "What folks need to understand is that the beekeeping industry, which is responsible for a third of the food we eat, is at a critical threshold."
For background, beekeepers available for interviews and more, go to Beyond Pesticides' Pollinators and Pesticides page: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/pollinators.