Photo Essay THE PERFECT CRIME: WHAT’S KILLING ALL THE BEES?

Honey bee colonies have experienced widespread die-offs in a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Many beekeepers believe a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids are weakening their bees. Mega-corporations are making a killing off their pesticides—but are they also getting away with murder? (22 photos)

A solitary bee flies above bee boxes in Calaveras County, California.

A solitary bee flies above bee boxes in Calaveras County, California.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

1In 2005, commercial beekeepers around the country started making an alarming discovery upon opening their bee boxes. A few males and a weakened queen bee were crawling around the comb, but the worker bees—the ones that forage in the flowers and supply the nectar that is the lifeblood to the colony—were gone.

While bee disappearances have occurred throughout the history of beekeeping, the mid-2000s events represented astounding losses, with researchers estimating that nearly one-third of all honey bees in America vanished.

Bees working in Portland, Maine.

Bees working in Portland, Maine.
JASON P. SMITH / EARTHJUSTICE

2In the eight years since scientists coined the phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder, commercial beekeepers continue to see unprecedented die-offs leading them to speculate that something sinister has changed in the world of bees.

CCD has been attributed to a number of causes including mite infestation and pathogens, but for many beekeepers across the world, a primary suspect is a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. These chemicals came onto the market in the late-1990s and were approved in 2000 for application to corn, America’s #1 cash crop. It is now estimated that 90 percent of all corn seeds are coated with German agro-chemical manufacturer Bayer’s neonicotinoid pesticide. With the rise of the chemical’s use, there has been a steep drop off in honey production in the Corn Belt of the United States.

A beekeeper works in Umatilla, Florida.

A beekeeper works in Umatilla, Florida.
MELISSA LYTTLE / EARTHJUSTICE

3Neonicotinoids have largely replaced more toxic, but less systemic pesticides known as organophosphates. During die offs that involved organophosphates, dead bees were usually found in large numbers around the hive. But with CCD, there are hardly any bodies to be found—the majority of bees just disappear.

A growing body of studies show that neonics, even in low doses, impair bees’ ability to navigate. The foraging worker bees that come into contact with the pesticide may get disoriented, flying around until they eventually run out of gas, lost in the field. With a loss of worker bees bringing food back to the hive, the entire colony suffers.

Beekeeper Bill Rhodes.

Beekeeper Bill Rhodes.
MELISSA LYTTLE / EARTHJUSTICE

4Bill Rhodes is a Florida beekeeper and former pro-football player. Since the 1970s, Rhodes has been shipping bees across the country, migrating hives to Wisconsin, the Dakotas, out to California and back down to Florida. Chemical companies claim the neonics aren’t to blame for CCD and instead point to things like varroa mite infestation, starvation, and even beekeeper neglect.

Bee boxes in Umatilla, Florida.

Bee boxes in Umatilla, Florida.
MELISSA LYTTLE / EARTHJUSTICE

5A certain amount of colony loss per year is normal in the business. To make up for the lost colonies, a beekeeper will typically divide healthy colonies and coax them up to strength by introducing a new queen bee. Rhodes usually splits his colonies during the fall and says they’ve always bounced back to full strength continuing to produce the fall honey that keeps them going through the winter.

In 2005 when he split his colonies, he noticed his bees didn’t respond the same way. “They didn’t want to make any honey to speak of,” Rhodes says. “They didn’t want to expand. We went ahead and split them anyway and fed them supplemental feed, and the bees just never did squat. We thought, what in the world happened to these bees?”

A beekeeper pumps smoke around the hives which have been loaded onto a truck for transport.

A beekeeper pumps smoke around the hives which have been loaded onto a truck for transport.
MELISSA LYTTLE / EARTHJUSTICE

6Almond growers rely entirely on honey bees to pollinate their orchards. California, the state that produces nearly 82 percent of the world’s almonds, must import honey bees from other states for the bloom to sustain their $2.3 billion-a-year crop.

At the end of summer 2005, Rhodes was scheduled to ship 16 semi-truck loads of bees from South Dakota to California where they would work the almond bloom. Before shipping them, Rhodes’ foreman in South Dakota called him up and told him the bees were looking odd. Because Rhodes had contracts to fulfill, he went ahead and shipped them anyway.

Beekeeper Bill Rhodes.

Beekeeper Bill Rhodes.
MELISSA LYTTLE / EARTHJUSTICE

7Once in California, Rhodes went out to inspect the hives, marking them and returning within the week to check again. “The hive would look entirely different,” Rhodes said. “It was like something just had it by the throat and was just pulling the strength from it. We had no idea what it was.”

He later learned that a neonicotinoid chemical had been approved in 2004 for sunflowers. They were the last thing that bloomed in South Dakota before Rhodes moved his bees out of the state. Out of the 16 semi-truck loads of bees he sent to California in 2005, only two of them were fit for pollinating the almonds. Rhodes estimates it cost him between $800,000 and $900,000 that year in losses.

Beekeeper Jeff Anderson minds his colonies in a California cherry orchard.

Beekeeper Jeff Anderson minds his colonies in a California cherry orchard.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

8“Colony Collapse Disorder: Beekeepers hate that term,” says Jeff Anderson, owner of California-Minnesota Honey Farms. It’s not a disorder or disease that’s causing the abnormal bee mortality, he reckons. “It’s the systemic insecticides that we’re using on just about every crop that we grow now.”

Anderson has joined a group of commercial beekeepers, the Pollinator Stewardship Council and other beekeeping organizations in a lawsuit represented by Earthjustice to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to rubber-stamp the approval of sulfoxaflor, a neonicotinoid insecticide that shows extreme toxicity to bees.

Beekeeper Jeff Anderson minds his colonies in a California cherry orchard.

Anderson works with his bees during the California spring bloom.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

9Anderson spends the springtime in California when the nut and fruit trees are flowering. During the almond bloom in early spring about 1.6 million colonies, or half the nation’s honey bees, are actively pollinating the Golden State’s orchards. Anderson used to commit all his colonies to cherries after almonds, but because of the pesticide issues he’s been dealing with in Minnesota, he’s now decided to “rest” many of his bees, turning them out in natural forage areas and wildflowers to detox them.

Beekeeper Jeff Anderson minds his colonies in a California cherry orchard.

Anderson checks on the bee boxes.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

10Anderson keeps bees in both California and Minnesota and says the Midwestern bees are faring far worse. Not only are the crops in the heartland blasted with pesticides, but farmers have moved away from traditional crop rotation practices, instead planting vast expanses of mono-crops like corn or soybeans.

“The environment has become toxic and sick bees don’t make honey. Most of it is pesticide-related, but when you also just have a field of soybeans and dirt, or corn and dirt, or wheat and dirt, unless that particular crop is actively in bloom, you have a forage desert for pollinators.”

A honey bee alights on a cherry blossom in Stockton, California.

A honey bee alights on a cherry blossom in Stockton, California.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

11Bees have an electromagnetic charge turning them into little flying magnets, which carry and transfer pollen from flower to flower. This is how the trees reproduce. It takes about two hives, or 60,000 bees, to pollinate each orchard acre.

By some counts, pollinators such as bees and butterflies are responsible for one out of every three bites of food Americans eat. Honey bees in particular are responsible for pollinating many of our super-foods: the berries, nuts, avocados, and many other colorful and nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables that make up the healthiest parts of our diet.

A healthy hive.

A healthy hive, filled with worker bees.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

12A healthy hive has 30,000 bees, 94 percent of which are the female worker bees.

The worker bee’s job is to go out to the flowers and gather nectar from the blossoms to bring back to the colony. The nectar mixes with an enzyme in the bees’ mouth and is deposited into the honeycomb in the hive. The nectar naturally has high water content, but the bees help to evaporate the excess water by fanning their wings over the honeycomb. Once the liquid turns into a thick syrup, the bees cap the hole with wax. During the long winter months when there are no flowers, the hive survives by feeding off the capped honey reserves.

A healthy hive.

An unhealthy hive, where the colony attempted to hatch its own queen.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

13Spotty, uneven brood pattern where the eggs are laid indicates a sick or aging queen bee. When a colony determines its queen is impaired, it will drive her out of the hive and try to replace her with a new queen.

The large contusion in the middle of the comb above indicates where the colony attempted to hatch its own queen bee, feeding the female larva copious amounts of a special food mixture called royal jelly that will help her develop ovaries for reproduction. Beekeepers prefer not to allow the colony to create its own queen because it slows down pollination and honey production. A beekeeper instead will examine the brood pattern in the honeycomb and root out a weak queen and replace it with a new queen cell.

Jeff Anderson says queen bees used to live as long as two to three years. Now they only last about six months.

The Anderson family works among bee boxes..

The Anderson family works among bee boxes in California.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

14To make up for lost hives, Anderson used to split about 25 to 30 percent of his colonies to keep his population stable. Since CCD, he’s had to split upwards of 110 to 130 percent of his hives, meaning he’s divided hives that have already been split once before in a given year.

A single beekeeper can manage about 1,000 hives when the hives are healthy, Anderson says. Since the emergence of CCD, now a beekeeper can only handle about 500 hives to keep them alive.

Beekeeper Bill Anderson takes a lunch break with sons Kyle, far left, and Jeremy.

Beekeeper Bill Anderson takes a lunch break with sons Kyle, far left, and Jeremy.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

15Anderson has enlisted several of his children to help him with the business. He inherited the beekeeping business from his father-in-law and had hoped his sons would take up the family trade, but he’s a realist about the future of the business. “Three of my boys are currently working for me. All three will tell you they are not sure they want to become owners of a bee business.”

Anderson has been beekeeping since 1976 and has never experienced the level of loss as he’s seen in recent years. Last winter, he lost 67 percent of his colonies. His typical winter colony loss prior to 2005 was about 6 percent.

Beekeeper Steve Ellis.

Beekeeper Steve Ellis.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

16Minnesota beekeeper Steve Ellis spent more than $20,000 in 2014 trying to save colonies that he’d shipped to California thinking they were healthy, but which quickly fell apart upon arrival to the West Coast.

He sent 450 weakened colonies to a specialist in southern California who was able to keep 280 of the colonies alive.

However, only 40 of those colonies were fit enough to be used for pollination in almonds, meaning 90 percent represented a financial loss.

“I fell in love with beekeeping and I’m not ready to leave the marriage yet,” Ellis says.

“But you do have to be a little bit on the practical side too.”

“How many years of loss am I willing to bear with right now before I start to say maybe I’m going to have to cut back and become a hobbyist?”

Bees in Umatilla, Florida.

Bees in Umatilla, Florida.
MELISSA LYTTLE / EARTHJUSTICE

17Ellis likens the bees that are exposed to neonics to cancer patients. Even if they don’t die from the chemical, their immune systems are weakened enough to make them susceptible to other ailments.

“When bees come in contact with a lot of these chemicals, it makes them sick and it also makes them mad,” Ellis said. “It’s part of the disorientation. They’re jumpy. They sting more, which also kills them. It’s no fun to work bad bees. It’s just about the most depressing thing a beekeeper can do.”

Beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes.

Beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes.
JASON P. SMITH / EARTHJUSTICE

18Commercial beekeepers aren’t the only ones suffering from the impact of neonicotinoids. Erin MacGregor-Forbes is an urban beekeeper in Maine who runs a small-scale operation more for fun than profit. Her backyard beekeeping operation keeps the neighborhood pollinated and her 100 or so colonies produce between 7,000 to 10,000 lbs of honey each year, which she sells at stores locally.

Beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes.

Beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes.
JASON P. SMITH / EARTHJUSTICE

19While MacGregor-Forbes’ bees don’t face the same stress from toxic mega-farms, hers are susceptible to a different kind of threat: Pesticide-doused plants that people are unknowingly putting in their gardens.

Many of the plants available for sale at Home Depot, Lowes, or other garden supply stores have been treated with neonicotinoids. Lawn fertilizers also frequently contain weed-killing substances that persist in the soil for years. While bees don’t bother with grass, if a homeowner decides to build a garden or plant bee-friendly clover in tainted soil, the bees will be exposed.

“Homeowners are planting flowers in their yards thinking they’re helping bees and they’re basically planting poison plants,” she says.

Beekeepers Maxine and Charles Walters.

Beekeepers Maxine and Charles Walters.
LAURA ANTRIM CASKEY / EARTHJUSTICE

20Charles Walters and his wife Maxine, the 2013 West Virginia Beekeepers of the Year, keep about 250 hives and produce honey and beeswax products while also breeding queens for sale to small scale hobbyists. He avoids orchards and tries to keep his bees only on natural forage taking them up to New York State in the fall to feed on fields of goldenrod and aster. However, urban encroachment and increased use of systemic toxins like neonics in garden plants are always a worry.

“There’s only so much that we can control,” he says. “The more the population increases, of course you have more and more development. We are surrounded.”

Dr. Kegley shows Loarie a bee box in the backyard of her home in California.

Dr. Kegley shows attorney Greg Loarie a bee box in the backyard of her home in California.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

21Earthjustice is working on a number of pesticide-related cases to protect bees, the environment, and people who may be exposed to toxic chemicals. In addition to suing EPA for approving sulfoxaflor, Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie has been developing a case with the help of pesticide researcher Susan Kegley to force the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to better regulate neonicotinoids.

“At the end of the day, the honey bee crisis is a human health crisis,” Loarie says. “If we can’t save bees, we can kiss goodbye the most nutritious part of the food pyramid. That’s just not an outcome we at Earthjustice are willing to accept.”

Alyssa Anderson, daughter of the Jeff Anderson, the beekeeper in California, holds a baby bee.

Alyssa Anderson, daughter of the Jeff Anderson, the beekeeper in California, holds a baby bee.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

22“The honey bees are great communicators of the insect world because they have figured out how to produce honey and also how to survive human manipulation,” says backyard Maine beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes.

“Plants have hired bees to do their sexual reproduction and the bees have hired beekeepers to advocate for them and all the other wild species. Honey bees are building up a little system of advocates that other species of insects aren’t able to gather because they don’t communicate with us in the same way honey bees do.”  

Published on May 2, 2014

BEES NEED YOUR HELP

Help ensure the pesticide sulfoxaflor does not become the final straw for bees.

The Case Of The Vanishing Bees

http://earthjustice.org/features/the-case-of-the-vanishing-honey-bee?utm_source=crm

On a fine June morning last year at a Target store outside Portland, Oregon, customers arrive to a startling sight: the parking lot was covered with a seething mat of bumblebees, some staggering around, most already dead, more raining down from above. The die-off lasted several days.

It didn’t take long to figure out that the day before a pest-control company had sprayed a powerful insecticide on surrounding Linden trees to protect them from aphids; but nobody warned the bees to stay away. In the end, an estimated 50,000 bumblebees perished.

The tragedy at Target wiped out as many as 300 bumblebee colonies of bees no longer available to pollinate nearby trees and flowers.

The deadly pesticide is one of a fairly new family known as the neonicotinoids—“neonics” for short—developed a decade or so ago to replace organophosphates and carbamates, which are also highly toxic but dissipate far more quickly.

Infographic: Bees' Toxic Problem.

Learn how “neonics” are turning the sweet lives of bees sour. View Infographic »

Scores of plants—fruits, vegetables, ornamentals—are sprayed with neonics. The chemical penetrates the leaves and is taken up by the plant’s vascular system, turning the plant poisonous to insects eating the leaves, pollen and nectar. Alternatively, the plant’s seeds are soaked or the soil is treated with the chemical, with the same result. This is convenient for keeping beetles off your roses. It is lethal for bees and other pollinators.

And even if it doesn’t kill directly, as happened at the Target lot, sub-lethal doses interfere with the bees’ immune systems and make them vulnerable to pests. They can also damage the bees’ ability to navigate back to the hive.

Several of the neonics, incidentally, are made by Bayer, the same Bayer that made the aspirin in your medicine cabinet. Bayer is a German company; yet, since 2013, neonics may not be used on bee-attractive crops in Germany or any other country in the European Union.

This prohibition on use in the EU is a manifestation of what’s known as the Precautionary Principle, a fancy way of saying “Look before you leap.” In the United States we do it backwards: Chemicals are deemed innocent until proven guilty, sometimes with disastrous results.

Bees working in Portland, Maine.

Bees working in Portland, Maine. View photos »
JASON P. SMITH / EARTHJUSTICE

CONSIDER THE HONEYBEE

She has been domesticated by humans for some thirteen millennia. She is the only creature besides us who manufactures food for humans. She stings only in self-defense. She pollinates a substantial fraction of the plants humans consume. One calculation has it that every third bite of food you eat was pollinated by a bee.

The use of ‘she’ here is deliberate. All worker bees are female, as is the queen. The only guys are the drones, a fraction of the total in a hive that has sixty to a hundred thousand individuals. The drones’ only job is to impregnate the queen, which may sound like a cushy gig but he dies in the act. Come fall, the remaining drones are unceremoniously evicted from the hive to save the precious winter resources for the worker bees.

Domesticated bees are around two thirds of the total bee population in the world, the rest are wild. Butterflies pollinate too, and other insects, and hummingbirds, even bats in the tropics. In the United States, Europe, and elsewhere domesticated bees are a major player in agriculture.

The population of bees, domestic and wild, fluctuates considerably from year to year. Drought will reduce the amount of wild food the bees need to survive. Storms can wipe out colonies. Natural diseases can ravage populations. But bee colonies are resilient and can bounce back from adversity. At least it used to be that way, until the winter/spring of 2006/2007.

COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER TAKES HOLD

In that season, the die-off of domesticated bees was so bad bee researchers coined a new phrase: Colony Collapse Disorder. Where the normal annual loss of colonies ran around 10 percent, that year it was over 30 percent, with some beekeepers losing more than 80 percent. And even those stats underestimate reality.

Jeff Anderson, a beekeeper in Minnesota and California points out that the official statistics from the federal Department of Agriculture counts only wintertime die-offs, but in the new bee-unfriendly world there are die-offs all year round: Now he loses half or more of his bees in most years. Other beekeepers have similar stories.

Beekeeper Jeff Anderson takes a quiet moment during the California cherry bloom.

Beekeeper Jeff Anderson takes a quiet moment during the California cherry bloom.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

And what makes these die-offs different is that frequently the bees just vanish. A beekeeper will open a hive to find only brood—developing bees—and a queen, maybe a few drones. The worker bees have disappeared. Anderson calls this the Perfect Crime—no bodies, no murder weapon, no bees.

One prevailing theory is that a chemical has damaged the bees’ ability to find their way home; they simply get lost, run out of gas and die.

Bill Rhodes, a former professional football player turned beekeeper, lives in Umatilla, Florida, where his bees pollinate citrus orchards. In the summers his bees go to North Dakota or Wisconsin to prepare for winter. In the spring he trucks his bees to California’s Central Valley where they help pollinate almond orchards.

Beekeeping is a huge business—it takes an estimated million and a half hives to pollinate the almonds each year, producing a crop worth $6 billion give or take, twice what California’s wine industry is worth. A major fraction of all commercial bee hives in the U.S. make the journey to the almond orchards every year.

Beekeeper Bill Rhodes in a Florida citrus orchard.

Beekeeper Bill Rhodes in a Florida citrus orchard.
MELISSA LYTTLE / EARTHJUSTICE

Rhodes started noticing some problems about 10 years ago. The bees simply weren’t behaving the way they should. At first he thought, he was just a “piss-poor beekeeper,” but soon he knew that wasn’t right. Something had changed in the bees’ lives.

In 2004, he trucked 16 semi-trailer loads of bees to California. “I got paid for two.” The bees just weren’t performing, which was as bad for the orchardists as it was for the beekeepers, not to mention the consumers of almonds.

Rhodes phoned a friend in the pest control business and learned about a chemical called imidacloprid that was used on termites. “The termite becomes disoriented. It lowers its immune system. Viruses will kill him. I also learned that the stuff was used on sunflowers. Sunflowers were the last thing to bloom in South Dakota where my bees had been for the summer. It was suddenly starting to make sense.”

Zac Browning raises bees in Idaho and North Dakota and, like many of his colleagues, trucks them to California in the spring when almond orchards are in bloom. He outlines a phenomenon that has combined with pesticides and other bee hazards to make life extremely difficult: the conversion of bee-friendly areas—or as Browning calls them, “beetopias”—to vast swaths of industrial soybean and corn fields.

Both soybean and corn are almost exclusively genetically modified to be resistant to the deluge of pesticides sprayed on the fields to kill weeds. Corn and soy provide very little food for bees even without all the poisons.

Browning describes yet another problem: “In North Dakota a calm day is a 20-mile-an-hour sustained wind,” he says. The herbicides are sprayed on huge fields. They drift all along the periphery of the field, across the road ditches, next to the waterways, and “everywhere imaginable where bee forage would be. The bees are starving. The herbicide kills all the natural forage, and then the bees are concentrated only on crops that have insecticide applied to them.”

Erin MacGregor-Forbes tends to her bees in Maine.

Erin MacGregor-Forbes tends to her bees in Maine.
JASON P. SMITH / EARTHJUSTICE

Erin MacGregor-Forbes is an accountant in Portland, Maine, who raises bees for fun and a little profit. She is also a serious student of bee politics and bee science. What worries her most is the fact that many of the plants you buy at Home Depot or another big supplier have been treated with neonics.

“Homeowners are planting flowers in their yards thinking they’re helping bees and they’re basically planting poison plants,” MacGregor-Forbes says. The phenomenon holds true for lawns as well: Lawn fertilizers frequently contain weed-killing substances. Bees don’t care about lawns, but the chemical will persist in the soil for three years, so if someone tears out a lawn and plants flowers or vegetables, those will be poisonous to bees.

Susan Kegley, a self-described rookie beekeeper, is a PhD chemist and head of the Pesticide Research Institute in Berkeley. She has dug into data collected by the federal Department of Agriculture and the USGS, and has been helping Earthjustice attorneyGreg Loarie as digs into the law surrounding pesticides and bees. Her charts are dramatic and stunning. As pesticide use has soared, honey production has plummeted. Likewise, as massive new plantings of corn and soy have blanketed the upper Midwest, honey production has fallen as bee deaths have climbed.

Susan Kegley speaks with Greg Loarie.

Chemist Susan Kegley, who heads the Pesticide Research Institute in Berkeley, CA, shares scientific expertise with Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who is leading the challenge against the EPA’s approval of the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor. View photos »
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

A NEW INDICTMENT

On May 9, 2014, the Harvard School of Public Health released a chilling new studysuggesting that even small amounts of neonics can significantly harm honeybee colonies and cause mass wintertime die offs. In the study, the Harvard scientists found that hives of bees exposed to two forms of neonics were much more vulnerable to Colony Collapse Disorder than unexposed hives.

“We demonstrated again in this study that neonicotinoids are highly likely to be responsible for triggering CCD in honey bee hives that were healthy prior to the arrival of winter,” said lead study author Chensheng (Alex) Lu of Harvard in a statement.

AND SO TO COURT

The law known as FIFRA, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, is supposed to protect people, bees, and other wildlife from dangerous chemicals. It has never worked all that well, in part because the companies seeking permission to get chemicals to market are the entities who do the lab tests and field tests of the chemicals, then submit their findings to the EPA for product approval. This is clearly a process with ample opportunity for abuse.

Using inadequate science, the EPA approved a neonic made by Dow called“sulfoxaflor” for use on a wide variety of crops in early 2013. Earthjustice, which has been involved in successful efforts to protect people and the environment from dangerous chemicals for nearly 40 years, is currently representing the beekeeping industry in a lawsuit against the EPA for its approval of sulfoxaflor.

In their case, Earthjustice attorneys Greg Loarie and Janette Brimmer cite EPA studies that found that the chemical is “very highly toxic” to honeybees and the EPA’s own risk assessment, which concedes that the “absence of incident [reports] cannot be construed with absence of incidents.”

Case in point: Dow cites an example when sulfoxaflor was used on cotton to kill a new pest called the Tarnished Plant Bug with no reports of bee death. Susan Kegley points out that there were no reports of death because many years earlier, in the early 2000s, a different pesticide had already succeeded in eradicating both weevils and the bees from the cotton belt. Many bees perished, and any beekeeper who wanted to keep his bees alive had already moved them away from cotton.

Earthjustice and its beekeeper clients also argue that the EPA’s science doesn’t dig deep enough to consider the true effects of neonics on bees.

“You can think about bees in two ways. You can think of individual bees or you can think of the colony, the superorganism,” MacGregor-Forbes says. The EPA has only measured the amount of a given poison that will kill an individual bee or many individual bees, but has neglected the overall effect on the colony.

A decision on sulfoxaflor could come before the end of the year, though the Ninth Circuit is not known for its speed. It may be a close call—courts generally give considerable deference to agencies like the EPA when the argument is over science.

Beekeeper Jeff Anderson checks on his bees to make sure the queen bee is producing a healthy brood.

Beekeeper Jeff Anderson checks on his bees to make sure the queen bee is producing a healthy brood. View photos »
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Jeff Anderson, the Minnesota-California beekeeper who is a plaintiff on the sulfoxaflor lawsuit, argues that 95 percent of the applications of the neonics are unnecessary and uneconomic.

Zac Browning insists that the switch to genetically modified soybeans and corn must be reversed. And there are far more benign pest control strategies. The benefits of getting off the pesticide bandwagon would be enormous: more honey (there’s a worldwide shortage at present), more reliable pollination of fruit and nut trees and vegetables, less chance of harm to humans and a myriad species of wildlife. And less chance that that lovely shrub you planted to help the bees in your neighborhood will actually be a killer of bees and other productive insects.

Alyssa Anderson, daughter of beekeeper Jeff Anderson, holds a baby bee.

Alyssa Anderson, daughter of beekeeper Jeff Anderson, holds a baby bee.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

At least one city—Eugene, Oregon—has outlawed the use of the neonics; others could follow. States could step up as well, as Earthjustice is asking California to do. And it’s conceivable that the EPA could do the right thing. The agricultural chemicals industry is extremely powerful and influential, but if Europe can ban neonics, why can’t we?  

http://earthjustice.org/features/the-case-of-the-vanishing-honey-bee?utm_source=crm

 

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