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White House Moves To Save Bees

Pesticides: Federal agencies must advance strategy for protecting pollinators

by Britt E. Erickson
June 23, 2014

Citing the “breadth, severity, and persistence” of losses of honeybees and other pollinators, President Barack Obama has ordered more than a dozen federal agencies to develop a plan for restoring pollinator populations. The new federal strategy could lead to changes in pesticide regulations.

Environmental groups and pesticide manufacturers alike are welcoming the President’s June 20 action. They are pleased that he acknowledges the multiple factors linked to declining pollinator health, including parasitic mites, poor bee management, inadequate nutrition from loss of forage lands, and pesticides. All of these make honeybees more susceptible to disease.

But some environmental groups are continuing to zero in on pesticides, particularly a class of insecticides called the neonicotinoids, saying use of these chemicals needs to diminish to protect pollinators.

In a memorandum to federal agencies, Obama ordered EPA to assess the impact of all pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on pollinator health. EPA had already begun that assessment, but it now has a deadline of 180 days to complete the work and begin any necessary regulatory action.

The President also ordered EPA to expedite its review of new pesticide products that target pests, such as mites, that are harmful to pollinators. Obama directed the Department of Agriculture to increase both the acreage and quality of pollinator habitat in its conservation programs.

Pollinators—bees, birds, bats, and butterflies—are disappearing from the environment, Obama’s directive says. “The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment,” it says.

The pesticide industry group CropLife America “is hopeful that this level of federal cooperation will help generate practical, science-based solutions for improving pollinator health,” says Jay Vroom, president and CEO of the organization. Vroom adds, “Ongoing research and field studies have consistently found no adverse effects on bee colonies when pesticides are applied according to label directions.”

Some environmental and consumer advocacy groups, however, are pressuring EPA to ban neonicotinoid pesticides because of their potential toxicity to bees. The White House announcement “is on the right track, but assessment and habitat building alone won’t save our pollinators,” says Larissa Walker, head of the pollinator campaign at the Center for Food Safety, a public interest advocacy group. “We need decisive action on pesticides.”



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