Pollinator Policy Offers ‘Flexible’ Approach to Protecting Bees

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By Tiffany Stecker

The Obama administration is pushing through efforts to reduce pesticide risks to bees one week before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized its policy on protecting honeybees from pesticide-spraying Jan. 12, placing restrictions on how farmers can use the pest-killers to avoid contact with bees used for pollination services. In these situations, farmers contract with beekeepers to rent hives in order to ensure bountiful crops of fruits, vegetables, legumes and other crops.

The final guidance is “more flexible and practical” than the proposal issued May 29, 2015, according to the announcement from the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs.

It allows products that retain their toxicity to bees to be applied for short periods in certain cases. It also would approve spraying when pollinators are unlikely to be foraging. The policy recommends new language for pesticide labels but is not legally binding.

Pesticides, particularly the class of neonicotinoids, have been linked to bee die-offs and an overall decline in bee health over the last decade. Scientists have debated the extent to which neonicotinoids are responsible for the problem.

Environmental Groups Call for More Protections

Friends of the Earth, a group that has advocated for restricting neonicotinoids, said the guidance falls short of protecting bees.

“EPA should have strengthened, not weakened, this policy,” Tiffany Finck-Haynes, a campaigner with the group, said in a statement. “If EPA is serious about protecting bees, the livelihood of beekeepers and our environment, the agency should take bee-toxic pesticides off the market.”

The proposed policy was criticized by environmental groups for only protecting honeybees under pollination contracts, arguing that farmers are not likely to accidentally kill off bees that provide a paid service.

Pesticide industry trade group CropLife America said it will advocate for increasing communication between farmers and beekeepers via state-run managed pollinator protection plans, which are voluntary efforts to avoid accidental spraying around bees.

“CropLife America and our members continue to engage in research, coalitions and partnerships to promote pollinator health. We agree that pollinators are an integral part of the agriculture ecosystem,” the organization said in a statement.

The move follows a decision on Jan. 11 from the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the rusty-patched bumblebee, a native bee species, under the Endangered Species Act.

The EPA also released pollinator risk assessments for three neonicotinoid pesticides: clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran, and made updates to its first pollinator assessment for imidacloprid.

According to the assessments, most approved uses do not pose significant risks to bee colonies. The EPA added information on potential risks to aquatic species for imidacloprid.

The EPA is proposing a new method for accounting for pesticide exposure to bees that may occur through pollen and nectar in two of the assessments: clothianidin and thiamethoxam.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Washington, D.C., at tstecker@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

EPA's policy to mitigate the acute risk to bees from pesticide products is available at http://src.bna.com/lowEPA's draft pollinator risk assessments are available at http://src.bna.com/loz

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