Tom's Corner

Court Holds Bee-Killing Pesticide Approvals Violated the Law

This could be a major victory. We’ll see how the EPA responds. As many of you know, I was one of the beekeeper plaintiffs.


Court Holds Bee-killing Pesticide Approvals Violated the Law

EPA must analyze risks to endangered species

SAN FRANCISCO—A Federal Court has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) systematically violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – a key wildlife protection law – when it approved bee-killing insecticides known as neonicotinoids. In a case ongoing for the last four years, brought by beekeepers, wildlife conservation groups, and food safety and consumer advocates, Judge Maxine Chesney of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that EPA had unlawfully issued 59 pesticide registrations between 2007 and 2012 for a wide variety of agricultural, landscaping and ornamental uses.

“This is a vital victory,” said George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety legal director. “Science shows these toxic pesticides harm bees, endangered species and the broader environment. More than fifty years ago, Rachel Carson warned us to avoid such toxic chemicals, and the court’s ruling may bring us one step closer to preventing another Silent Spring.”

Seeds coated with bee-killing neonicotinoid insecticides are now used on more than 150 million acres of U.S. corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops – totaling an area bigger than the state of California and Florida combined – the largest use of any insecticides in the country by far. Additional proceedings have been ordered to determine the correct remedy for EPA’s legal violations, which may lead to cancelling the 59 pesticide products and registrations, including many seed coating insecticides approved for scores of different crop uses.

The court’s ruling went against other claims in the lawsuit based on the plaintiffs’ 2012 petition and their procedural argument that EPA had not published several required Federal Register Notices. The beekeepers and others plaintiffs were relying on a petition filed in March of 2012, at which time the scientific evidence of the harm to bees, other critical species and the broader environment was far less developed. The original petition however is still lodged with EPA, and as such, its resolution is not yet fully decided.

“Vast amounts of scientific literature show the hazards these chemicals pose are far worse than we knew five years ago – and it was bad even then,” said CFS attorney Peter Jenkins. “The nation’s beekeepers continue to suffer unacceptable mortality of 40 percent annually and higher. Water contamination by these insecticides is virtually out of control. Wild pollinators and wetland-dependent birds are in danger. EPA must act to protect bees and the environment.”

The case is Ellis v. Housenger. The plaintiffs in the case are beekeepers Steve Ellis, Tom Theobald, Jim Doan, and Bill Rhodes; Center for Food Safety (CFS); Beyond Pesticides; Sierra Club; and Center for Environmental Health. They are represented by CFS’s legal team.



Neonicotinoids are a class of highly toxic insecticides designed to damage the central nervous system of insects, causing tremors, paralysis and death at even very low doses. Since the mid-2000s, their use through various methods has skyrocketed. Methods include sprays, soil drenches, tree injections and others. However, by far their greatest use in terms of U.S. land area affected is as crop seed coatings – a process by which agrichemicals are mixed together with large batches of seeds in order to coat them before the seeds are planted. Neonicotinoids persist in soil and are readily transported via air, dust and water both within and outside the planted fields. After seeds coated with neonics are planted, the chemicals spread far beyond the crop they are intended for and can contaminate nearby wildflowers, soil and water — all of which pose significant threats to bees foraging and nesting in the area. It has been known for several years that these chemicals can kill or weaken more than just the targeted pests. Non-target harm can occur to beneficial invertebrates, as well as to birds and other wildlife, through both direct and indirect effects.

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Tom Theobald interviewed by Linda Moulton Howe on Coast to Coast AM

Linda Moulton Howe began reporting on the bee losses very early on, starting with Dave Hackenberg’s sudden losses in 2006. I’ve done one or two interviews with Linda, but it had been two or three years since we’d spoken when she called in April to ask how the bees were doing. When I told her what had been happening since we last talked she asked for another interview, which appeared on the all night radio program, Coast to Coast AM, April 27, 2017.

While this interview was impromptu, with only 15 minutes to prepare while Linda powered up her studio, I think it does a good job of covering the major elements of the dilemma we find ourselves in.

Some of the figures I share in this interview are astounding and perhaps hard to believe, but the math is simple and anyone can do the calculations themselves. For the past two years I’ve spoken out on the massive environmental poisoning we are experiencing – the toxic equivalent of hundreds of billions of pounds of DDT, every year – and I’ve yet to see any challenge to these figures from the chemical industry. If I’m wrong, I invite them to come forward and show me where.

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Australian beekeeper Jeffrey Gibbs

The wheels are coming off the wagon in Australia. For more than a decade the chemical companies’ excuse for the massive worldwide bee losses has been varroa, varroa, varroa, and Australia was trumpeted as a success story, an example of the safe use of neonicotinoids. Australia is the last continent without varroa, and the chemical company line was “Look at Australia, neonicotinoids are being used widely and the bees and beekeepers are doing just fine.” Well, once again no surprise that they were just lying to us, as this Neonicotinoid View interview with Australian beekeepers Jeffrey Gibbs clearly shows.

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South Carolina bee kill no accident

The bee kill in South Carolina is getting a lot of press, and in most stories is being characterized as “an accident.”

This was no accident. Naled is an organophosphate. It is highly toxic to bees. Aerial application is the worst kind of delivery system and it looks like it was done during daylight. This was no accident. They knew exactly what they were doing. And if they didn’t, the decision makers should be relieved of their responsibilities for incompetence.

We’ve had these kinds of kills repeatedly, year after year, all over the country, not always the same chemicals, always the same excuses. And at least according to this story, an “oops we’re sorry” is all the beekeepers and the environment get for significant and costly destruction.

If any of you are interviewed about this because you are beekeepers don’t let yourselves be led into the “it was an accident” excuse.

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More on neonicotinoids in Australia

“In Australia neonicotinoids are everywhere. In my opinion Australian Beekeepers are being used as a massive field test on neonicotinoids. Australia is a worldwide excuse for insecticide companies who are blaming Varroa mite for bee colony collapse overseas and claiming that Australian bees are healthy. Given the present situation of most beekeepers in Australia, this is not only a joke but an insult. The only winners here are the pesticide corporations, making a mockery of your present hardship.”

-Jeffrey Gibbs

The above quote by Australian beekeeper Jeffrey Gibbs is from this article, Neonicotinoids in Australia, in The Australasian Beekeeper.  Australia has been touted by the chemical companies as a success story. It turns out that Australia has not escaped the devastating effects of  this family of pesticides and the story there is the same as in every country where the neonics have been used.

  • 50% annual losses
  • coated seeds
  • habitat and water contamination
  • immune system problems
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