US federal appeals court blocks use of pesticide over declining bee population

12 Sep 2015


A federal appeals court yesterday blocked the use of a pesticide over concerns of its negative effect on honey bees, which had mysteriously disappeared across the country in recent years.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals said the US Environmental Protection Agency did not adequately study the pesticide sulfoxaflor before approving its use in 2013 for a wide variety of crops, including citrus and cotton.

According to circuit judge Mary Schroeder, initial studies showed sulfoxaflor was highly toxic to honey bees, and the EPA was required to get further tests.

"In this case, given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA's registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it," she wrote.

According to EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen, the agency was reviewing the decision but had no further comment.

Sulfoxaflor formed part of a group of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, according to the 9th Circuit ruling. Neonicotinoids had been suspected of being one of several factors that had contributed to the collapse of honey bee colonies throughout the US.

Bees, especially honeybees, played an important role in the pollination of crops, and were considered essential to the US food supply.

According to the three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, the EPA's approval of the insecticide sulfoxaflor in 2013 ''was based on flawed and limited data'' and was ''not supported by substantial evidence.''

The decision banned the use of the chemical in the US until the EPA conducted further studies and made a new determination as to whether it was safe to use.

Four beekeeping associations and three individual beekeepers had challenged the EPA approval in a lawsuit filed in the 9th Circuit in December 2013.

The groups, the Pollinator Stewardship Council, National Honeybee Advisory Board, American Honey Producers Association and American Beekeeping Federation were represented by the San Francisco-based Earthjustice environmental law firm.

''Bees are essential to pollinate important crops and in recent years have been dying at alarming rates,'' Schroeder wrote in the ruling.

The court noted the EPA had initially classified sulfoxaflor as ''highly toxic'' to bees, adding further studies submitted by Dow were flawed or limited and did not provide sufficient data to determine the risks to bees.

''Without sufficient data, the EPA has no real idea whether sulfoxaflor will cause unreasonable adverse effects on bees,'' the court said.

Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie said, ''Our country is facing widespread bee colony collapse, and scientists are pointing to pesticides like sulfoxaflor as the cause.

''The court's decision to overturn approval of this bee-killing pesticide is incredible news for bees, beekeepers and all of us who enjoy the healthy fruits, nuts, and vegetables that rely on bees for pollination,'' Loarie said in a statement.

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