The deaths prompted the Save America’s Pollinators Act, introduced by Reps. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., which would ban four neonicotinoids, including dinotefuran, until the EPA determines they don’t harm pollinators.
“It’s requiring what EPA should have done from the start,” Walker said. “We still don’t have the data showing there won’t be adverse impacts.”
Researchers, however, blame a range of factors for bee declines and say isolating one variable ignores the complexity of the problem.
The Agriculture Department’s lead bee researcher, Jeff Pettis, has said consensus is building that a complex set of stressors, pesticides among them, is to blame. The stressors include a lack of diversity in the agricultural landscape, leading to less forage for bees, and modern weed control, which has meant fewer weeds for bee nutrition.
While neonics seem to be linked to a bee gut pathogen, called Nosema, another pesticide class, called pyrethroids, is a larger problem, Pettis said. He maintains that a parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, is the greatest threat.
Still, to the chagrin of neonic makers, recent research makes a strong link between bee health and that class of pesticide. Most recently, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health said the likely culprit in honey bee die-offs is imidacloprid, a neonic produced by Bayer.
The European Union issued a temporary two-year ban restricting the use of three neonics last year, including imidaclropid, based on regulators’ determinations that exposure poses a “high acute” risk to bees. The European Food Safety Authority said science on the subject came mostly from industry, and urged regulators to impose a temporary ban to enable further study.
The EPA has said its own conclusions on risks posed by neonics are similar to those of EU regulators, but its mandate requires the agency to address risk management. “The EPA bases its pesticide regulatory decisions on the entire body of scientific literature,” the agency notes on its website, “including studies submitted by the registrant, journal articles and other sources of peer-reviewed data.”
The agency has taken a defensive posture, underscoring its attempts to address the issue, including new labeling requirements on some neonics and letters to the pesticide industry, sent last year.
The agency has also issued best management practices, and notes it is currently reviewing six neonics, including dinotefuran and imidacloprid
The industry has taken its own approach. Three companies — Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto — have said they’re all working on a solution. Monsanto, which recently bought the bee research company Beeologics, held a first-ever bee summit last year, while Bayer recently opened its North American Bee Care Center in North Carolina.
“Bayer CropScience is working with state, federal and agricultural stakeholders to develop a comprehensive effort to promote bee health,” Christopher Loder, a company spokesman, said in an email. “These efforts include expanding available forage for pollinators, adoption of best management practices for agriculture and apiculture, and more focused research on protecting bees from the invasive Varroa mite.”
Critics say these efforts are an attempt to deflect attention from pesticides, and say they’re worried Congress will be swayed by the industry.