Beekeepers, environmentalists question EPAs commitment to saving bees
FOIA request probes pesticide industry influence
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Friends of the Earth submitted a Freedom of Information Act to the Environmental Protection Agency today requesting meeting minutes and communications between the EPA Office of the Administrator, the Office of Pesticide Programs and representatives of the pesticide industry. Friends of the Earth submitted this FOIA due to concerns raised by beekeepers around undue pesticide industry influence on the development of the EPA’s pollinator and pesticide policies. August 28 marks the end of the public comment period on the EPA’s mitigation proposal for pesticides that are acutely toxic to bees and its proposal to rely on state and tribe level bee protection plans.
Beekeepers have voiced concerns that the proposal places an unfair burden on beekeepers to solve the bee crisis and abandons federal responsibility to address the impact of pesticides on bee deaths. The Pollinator Stewardship Council recently submitted a letter to the EPA detailing its concerns about the proposed New Rule.
“States are being tasked with creating Pollinator Protection Plans with little funding support. At a minimum, states need funding for apiary inspectors and lab testing of hive matrices and honey bees. If this proposed New Rule is as Jim Jones, EPA Asst. Administrator states a ‘function of where the bees are,’ then the proposed new rule must protect bees wherever they are located. Beekeepers should not suffer the loss of their livestock simply because they are not under a crop pollination contract,” said Michele Colopy, program director of the Pollinator Stewardship Council.
“It is imperative that the EPA listen to beekeepers and independent scientists, not just the pesticide industry, if it is serious about protecting bees and our nation’s food supply,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “We’re concerned that the EPA is passing the buck, ignoring clear science linking seed treatments and other uses of systemic pesticides to bee declines and not actively seeking solutions for the beekeepers who are bearing the brunt of agency policies.”
“Maryland’s beekeepers are concerned the Maryland Department of Agriculture, charged with creating Maryland’s pollinator protection plan, will follow the lead of several current state plans which promote a pesticide industry stance by not addressing the systemic nature of neonicotinoids. These plans also put the burden on beekeepers to move their hives with 48-hour notice prior to application—an unreasonable option. Colony losses in Maryland climbed to a record 61% this year—10% losses are considered sustainable. A weak state plan may mean that beekeepers will become an endangered species, along with our pollinators,” said Bonnie Raindrop, Central Maryland Beekeepers Association. “We urge the EPA to develop a strong, unified federal plan to protect pollinators instead of a patchwork of state plans that vary in levels of strength and effectiveness.”
Ohio beekeepers are actively seeking to work with other agricultural stakeholders on the State Pollinator Protection Plan. “The last we heard from the Ohio Agricultural Dept., on June 25, was that they were ‘waiting for US EPA to put out guidance,’” said Terry Lieberman-Smith, vice president of Ohio State Beekeepers Association.
The EPA has instructed the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials to create a guidance document for use in developing State Pollinator Plans.
“The EPA should be aware that the agri-chemical industry is attempting to hijack the entire pollinator program in order to protect neonics. In MA the state Farm Bureau, in concert with their national organization, secretly organized a consortia of farmers, landscapers, pest control operators and selected commercial beekeepers to propose state legislation concerning this program. The 7 county beekeeping organizations, comprising over 80% of state beekeepers, were never informed this consortia existed and when discovered were initially banned from their meetings. This is a cynical enterprise,” stated Massachusetts beekeeper, Richard Callahan, PhD.
“Massachusetts Farm Bureau wrote the plan without the input of county beekeepers and has not addressed any of the issues to protect pollinators,” said Lucy Tabit, Massachusetts beekeeper. “They put my name on it, without my knowledge or permission. We still don’t know who’s running this initiative – what we do know is that it’s NOT us beekeepers. If my beehives are being killed by agricultural or residential chemical spray, so are the countless other native pollinators and the other wildlife that eat them. Who is accountable?”
Commercial beekeeper Jeff Anderson is concerned the State Pollinator Protection Plans are a method to pass-off responsibility. “When a hive has brood, and honey, and few if any live honey bees, it is the result of the sub-lethal effects of pesticide exposure. An acute kill may occur to foragers in the field, who then cannot return to the hive because they are dead. The next day another round of foragers suffers an acute kill in the field from foliar applications of bee toxic pesticides. In a few short days all of the foragers are dead in the field, and few if any live honey bees remain in the hive. Forty hives quickly become only twelve hives. EPA intends to completely free States from any accountability,” stated Mr. Anderson.
The White House established the Pollinator Health Task Force in June 2014 to assess pollinator health and the impacts of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on pollinators. In May, the Task Force released their National Pollinator Health Strategy. This plan did not require any restrictions on the current uses of neonicotinoid pesticides, even though there are is a large and growing body of evidence demonstrating harm from their use.
In April 2014, Friends of the Earth released a report, “Follow the Honey: 7 ways pesticide companies are spinning the bee crisis to protect profits,” which documents the deceptive tactics used by agrochemical companies including Germany-based Bayer (DE: BAYN), Switzerland-based Syngenta (NYSE: SYT) and U.S.-based Monsanto (NYSE: MON), to deflect blame from their products’ contributions to bee declines and delay regulatory action on neonicotinoid pesticides.
More than 44,689 Friends of the Earth members and 25,608 Friends of the Earth Action members submitted comments to the EPA urging immediate action on bee-toxic pesticides and for adoption of a federal, unified state plan to protect bees and beekeepers.
Tiffany Finck-Haynes, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0715, [email protected]
Bonnie Raindrop, Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, 410-404-3808, [email protected]
Roger Williams, Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, (802) 355-9933, [email protected]
Lucy Tabit, Bristol County Beekeepers Association of Massachusetts, [email protected]
Dick Callahan, Worcester County Beekeepers Association of Massachusetts, (508) 332-9776, [email protected]
Jeff Anderson, Owner California Minnesota Honey Farms, (209) 480-3256, [email protected]
Communications contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, [email protected]