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U.S. Bans Sulfoxaflor Pesticide

Agriculture: After court order, EPA stops sale of chemical to protect bees

by Britt E. Erickson
November 20, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 46

Sulfoxaflor, a pesticide used to control aphids and other insects on a handful of crops, can no longer be sold or distributed in the U.S., EPA announced on Nov. 12. EPA’s action follows a September federal appeals court ruling that ordered the agency to remove sulfoxaflor from the U.S. market because of concerns that the chemical is harmful to bees and other pollinators.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sorghum growers say they depend on sulfoxaflor to combat aphids.
Image of sorghum.
Credit: Shutterstock
Sorghum growers say they depend on sulfoxaflor to combat aphids.

EPA approved sulfoxaflor in May 2013, with various restrictions aimed at protecting bees. But a coalition of beekeepers and environmental groups sued EPA a few months later, claiming the agency failed to address data gaps related to effects of the chemical on bees. Sulfoxaflor’s mode of action is similar to that of imidacloprid and clothianidin, two neonicotinoid pesticides that have been under scrutiny because of concerns about adverse impacts on bees.

Dow AgroSciences, the manufacturer of sulfoxaflor, claims that the insecticide is not a neonicotinoid. “Sulfoxaflor is a sulfoximine-class insecticide,” the company said in a statement. Dow is confident that this new class of insecticides offers benefits to growers against destructive pests. The company says that it plans to work with EPA to get sulfoxaflor back on the market.

Sulfoxaflor, sold under the name Transform, “was widely used to control sugarcane aphids in sorghum during the 2014 and 2015 growing seasons,” stresses National Sorghum Producers, which represents sorghum growers. “We will work as hard as we can to ensure the product is available next year,” promises J. B. Stewart, the group’s past-chairman.

EPA acknowledges that the effects of sulfoxaflor on bees are unclear, but the agency will allow growers who have already purchased the chemical to use up their existing stocks, provided they follow the previously approved label. Beekeepers and environmental groups say EPA should not allow any uses of sulfoxaflor until it has data on its effects on bees. “EPA’s decision process to unconditionally register sulfoxaflor was based on flawed and limited data,” Michele Colopy, program director of the Pollinator Stewardship Council, said in response to the court ruling. “We can protect crops from pests and protect honeybees and native pollinators,” she said.



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