RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) memo recently leaked to a prominent beekeeper outlines agency scientists' concerns over a particular pesticide's effect on honeybees. The pesticide, clothianidin (also known as Poncho), is used to coat corn seeds and other popular food crops grown in the U.S., even though it's banned in France, Italy, and Germany. Because clothianidin is systemic, the pesticide is taken up inside the plant, and bees are exposed through pollen and nectar. (The pesticide is also in the food when we eat it, but more on that later.)
Clothianidin falls under the neonicotinoid family of pesticides, meaning it works by creating neurobehavioral and immune-system problems in insect pollinators. Honeybees struck by colony collapse disorder, or CCD, experience these types of symptoms. "Among the neonicotinoids, clothianidin is among those most toxic for honeybees; and this, combined with its systemic movement in plants, has produced a troubling mix of scientific results pointing to its potential risk for honeybees through current agricultural practices," says James Frazier, PhD, professor of entomology at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. "Our own research indicates that systemic pesticides occur in pollen and nectar in much greater quantities than has been previously thought, and that interactions among pesticides occurs often and should be of wide concern."
THE DETAILS: In the leaked memo, dated Nov. 2, an ecologist and chemist with the EPA's Environmental Fate and Effects Division pointed out serious flaws in the industry-funded study used to push approval of the toxic pesticide through, despite its strong link to CCD. Earlier this year, Penn State researchers released another study linking CCD to a cocktail of pesticides that wind up in honeybee hives. Nonorganic farmers have been using clothianidin in the U.S. during the last eight growing seasons. Interestingly, other countries impacted by CCD that went on to ban the pesticide have enjoyed a rebound in honeybee populations.
Citing the imminent economic and environmental hazards posed by the continued use of clothianidin, the National Honey Bee Advisory Board, Beekeeping Federation, Beyond Pesticides, Pesticide Action Network–North America, and Center for Biological Diversity are asking EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to exercise the agency’s emergency powers to take the pesticide off the market.
"The environment has become the experiment and all of us—not just bees and beekeepers—have become the experimental subjects," warns Tom Theobald, a beekeeper of 35 years. "We must do better; there is too much at stake."