Tom's Corner

Time Line: The Events Behind “Tom’s Corner”

Welcome to “Tom’s Corner,” a blog about bee decline by Tom Theobald, founding member of the Boulder County Beekeepers’ Association. In July 2010 Theobald wrote an article about clothianidin and bees for Bee Culture magazine that ignited a conversation about the connection between systemic pesticides and declining bee populations in the United States. Timeline here:

The story continues to unfold…

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Jim Doan on the state of American beekeeping

Here is a stark but enlightening interview with commercial beekeeper Jim Doan, on the state of American beekeeping. Thirty minutes long, but well worth the time for any of you trying to understand the elements of the crisis we are in. The first half is the interview with Jim. In the second half host June Stoyer and I discuss a number of pertinent topics.

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Is ‘pounds’ an accurate measure of pesticide use?

As good as this article from Civil Eats is, As Bees Die Off, the EPA Shuffles Its Feet, there are some mistakes. The most serious is that we still let the criminals define the vocabulary we use, and we continue to talk in ‘pounds’ as if that was an accurate measure of pesticide use.

Three million pounds of neonics on corn, another million on soybeans, looks pretty good when compared to the year of highest usage for DDT, eighty million pounds in 1959. Four million pounds of neonics, what’s all the fuss about?

Well, what’s missed is the fact that those four million pounds of neonicotinoids have the toxic equivalence of about fifteen billion pounds of DDT. And if that isn’t mind boggling enough, consider that only 5% of the actual usage is accounted for. Seed treatment, the focus of the lawsuit just filed against the EPA, represents 95% of the use. Add that in, multiply by a conservative five thousand (neonicotinoids are five to ten thousand times more toxic than DDT to lower level life forms) and we have the toxic equivalence of approximately 300 billion pounds of DDT, every year, year after year. This is the agricultural use, you can probably add in another 100 billion for urban and suburban use.

And in the face of this massive environmental poisoning what do we get from the EPA? Excuses, cover ups, evasions and sleight of hand. After twenty years of carnage and millions of colonies lost they conclude that neonicotinoids ‘may’ harm bees. Do they go to the law to better understand their responsibilities? Hardly.They go to the law instead to find a way to avoid those very responsibilities, and in all likelihood were complicit in the creation of those loopholes in the first place. Rather than revisit their failed decision making they instead have to be sued to get them to do their job.

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League of Women Voters, Minnesota takes a position on the neonics

This Briefing Paper from the Minnesota League of Women Voters is an excellent overview of many of the questions surrounding the the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Take the time to read it in its entirety and it will help put some of the controversy in perspective.

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Click the logo to read the PDF

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David Hackenberg questions seed coatings

June Stoyer and I interviewed David Hackenberg about seed treatments on The Neonicotinoid View the day after his suit was filed against the EPA.

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Beekeepers and allies sue EPA over neonicotinoid seed coatings

On January 6, 2016 several advocacy groups, farmers and beekeepers filed a law suit against the EPA for failure to properly register and regulate neonicotinmoids and other systemic pesticide seed coating. Here is the press release and a link to the suit itself for those who would like to dig deeper.

It is of great concern that the EPA continues to examine the law, not to better understand what their responsibilities are, but rather to find excuses for not fulfilling those responsibilities.

January 6, 2015

Beekeepers, Farmers, and Public Interest Groups Sue EPA over Failed Oversight of Neonicotinoid-coated Seeds

WASHINGTON, DC —Center for Food Safety, on behalf of several beekeepers, farmers and sustainable agriculture and conservation groups, filed a lawsuit today challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) inadequate regulation of the neonicotinoid insecticide seed coatings used on dozens of crops. EPA has allowed millions of pounds of coated seeds to be planted annually on more than 150 million acres nationwide. The lawsuit alleges the agency has illegally allowed this to occur, without requiring the coated seeds to be registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), without enforceable labels on the seed bags, and without adequate assessments of the serious ongoing environmental harm.

“EPA’s actions surrounding neonicotinoid seed coatings have led to intensifying and destructive consequences. These include acute honey bee kills, as well as chronic effects to numerous species, nationwide water and soil contamination, and other environmental and economic harms,” said Peter Jenkins, attorney with Center for Food Safety. “This lawsuit aims to hold EPA accountable to dramatically reduce this harm in the future.”

Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species and are considered a major factor in overall bee population declines and poor health. Up to 95 percent of the applied seed coating ends up in the surrounding air, soil and water rather than in the crop for which it was intended, leading to extensive contamination.

“My honey farm business is not capable of surviving another three to five years if EPA chooses to ‘drag out’ the treated article exemption in the courts at the request of the pesticide industry instead of properly regulating these pesticides. People need pollinated food; somebody must stand up and say no to unregulated killing of pollinators,” said Jeff Anderson, beekeeper and the lead plaintiff in the case.

“After experiencing a large loss of bees this spring due to corn planting ‘dust off,’ I believe that it is of critical importance that this defective product not be used as a prophylactic seed treatment,” said Bret Adee, owner of the largest commercial beekeeping operation in the country.

“As a beekeeper for over 50 years, I have lost more colonies of honey bees in the last ten years from the after effects of neonic seed coatings than all others causes over the first 40 plus years of my beekeeping operation,” said beekeeper David Hackenberg. “This not only affects my honey bees, but as a farmer it also affects my land and the health of my soil. It is time for EPA to accept the responsibility to protect not only our honey bees and other pollinators, but also our soil and our environment.”

“Farmers rely on the crop pollination services of beekeepers to increase the yield of their crops. Farmers need clear, concise pesticide label guidelines in order to protect their crops and protect honey bees. Healthy relationships between soil and water, beekeepers and farmers, and beneficial insects and crops are essential to an affordable and sustainable food supply,” said Michele Colopy, program director at the Pollinator Stewardship Council, Inc.

The cost-effectiveness of neonicotinoid seed coatings has been challenged in recent years, with numerous studies indicating that their near ubiquitous use is unnecessary — and making EPA’s disregard of their risks all the more harmful. Along with honey bees, wild bees and other beneficial insects are in serious decline, leading to reduced yields. Overuse of the insecticides threatens sustainable agriculture going forward.

“I began to question the value of neonicotinoids after some side-by-side comparisons showed little if any yield advantage. Shortly after this I began to hear of the possible connection between neonicotinoids and their detriment to honey bees, and I stopped using them altogether,” said Kansas grain farmer Gail Fuller of Fuller Farms.

“A single seed coated with a neonicotinoid insecticide is enough to kill a songbird. There is no justification for EPA to exempt these pesticide delivery devices from regulation. American Bird Conservancy urges the agency to evaluate the risks to birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife,” said Cynthia Palmer, director of pesticides science and regulation at American Bird Conservancy.

“EPA can’t bury its head in the sand any longer. Seed coatings are just the latest delivery device of pesticide corporations that pose a threat to pollinators and the food system,” said Marcia Ishii- Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “Given widespread use and persistence of these bee-harming pesticides, it’s time for EPA to fully and swiftly evaluate the impacts of seed coatings — and prevent future harm.”

EPA has also allowed several other similar systemic seed-coating insecticides onto the market and appears poised to approve additional coating products in the near future.

The plaintiffs in the case are beekeepers Jeff Anderson, Bret Adee, David Hackenberg, and Pollinator Stewardship Council, farmers Lucas Criswell and Gail Fuller, and public interest and conservation groups American Bird Conservancy, Center for Food Safety and Pesticide Action Network of North America.

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