SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court made the unusual decision last week to overturn Environmental Protection Agency approval of a pesticide that many believe is contributing to the widespread death of bees.
In their Sept. 10 decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA improperly approved sulfoxaflor, a pesticide manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, violating the agency’s own protocols in the process. Sulfoxaflor is a
, a type of chemical that many suggest could be causing colony collapse disorder, a mysterious bee die-off that claimed 40 percent of working beehives in 2014.
In 2013, the European Union voted to ban neonicotinoids in order to protect bees, which are necessary for the propagation of many major crops. In June, Ontario, Canada, became the first region in North America to ban the chemicals.
The lawsuit is backed by many U.S. organizations, including the Center for Food Safety and the American Honey Producers Association. In a statement, the association called it “a huge victory for bees,” according to The Indianapolis Star, adding, “Neonicotinoids have been shown time and time again to be extremely harmful.”
According to the opinion of Judge Mary M. Schroeder, EPA scientists called the results of the initial studies inconclusive, and asked for more work to be done. Instead, the EPA approved the pesticide a few months later after adding a few notes about its proper use and ignoring calls for more studies.
“Because the EPA’s decision to unconditionally register sulfoxaflor was based on flawed and limited data, we conclude that the unconditional approval was not supported by substantial evidence,” the court wrote. The judges strongly criticized the evidence presented by the United States and Dow in support of sulfoxaflor’s approval:
“The EPA and Dow argue that since the studies are inconclusive as to the risks of sulfoxaflor for bees, the studies affirmatively prove that sulfoxaflor does not cause unreasonable adverse effects on bees. Neither logic nor precedent can sustain this position.”
Gregory Loarie, lead counsel for environmental group Earthjustice, which represented beekeepers and beekeeping groups in the case, told EcoWatch that the approval of sulfoxaflor is just one of many troubling decisions by the EPA, and a sign that more careful studies are needed. He wrote in an email:
“The EPA rarely, if ever, has reliable information regarding the impact that insecticides have on honeybee colonies writ large, as opposed to individual, adult worker bees. … With the findings in this case, EPA should move quickly to re-examine other registrations for possible flawed and limited data.”
The EPA told The Star that the decision does not go into effect for 45 days, and the agency is reviewing possible next steps in consultation with the Justice Department.
Watch “Who’s to Blame for Honeybee Holocaust?” from Abby Martin’s “Breaking the Set”: