Bees are being killed: beekeepers take first step to sue EPA over pesticides

All parties involved agree on this: Bees are important to our economy and society. And if we lose our bees, the U.S. as we know it is lost. Photo: A swarm of bees

FREDERIC, Wis., May 9, 2012 — The battle of the bees and the deadly insecticides killing them en mass has taken a first step in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for negligence in not protecting the bees.

The Washington Times Communities is the first to bring you news about this approaching lawsuit. Buzz on Bees has obtained an exclusive copy of the “Emergency Petition” filed with the EPA, demanding the agency comply with federal law and Congress to protect bees from lethal pesticides.

The 64-page petition is a “first step” in resolving the use of deadly pesticides in agriculture, which is killing bees. If this step fails, a lawsuit may ensue against the EPA, said Steve Ellis, secretary of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board and one of the petitioners.

The lawyer representing the case says he hopes litigation is not needed, said Peter Jenkins, with the Center for Food Safety and International Center for Technology Assessment. He said the EPA has 90 days to respond. If they refuse to comply, he may also take it to Congress and the president.

The Petition alleges the EPA is in violation of federal law by allowing the continued “sale and use of clothianidin, a neonicotinoid pesticide.”

This pesticide, and other neonicotinoids, is used across the country to control insect damage to crops, like corn used for human food, livestock feed and ethanol.

Bees May Soon Be Missing From Gardens Too

Most states grow corn, “reaching a near-record 92 million acres in 2011 (the size of Germany)” states the Petition. However, this problem is not restricted to agri-business. Everyday gardeners will find many of these lethal chemicals in their vegetable and flower pesticide sprays.

And innocently working all these poisoned areas are the busy, pollinating honeybees. The March 20, 2012 petition says when exposed to neonicotinoid “toxic chemicals” the bees soon after suffer “massive die-offs.”

A major loss of bees would be an economic catastrophe. And experts say that’s where we’re headed.

“We’ve been suffering for the past 5 years,” said Jeffery Pettis, lead bee researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “There’s been about a 30 percent loss through the fall and winter.”

Honeybees are critical in agriculture. The value of crops in U.S. agriculture that depend on their pollination is $19 billion, according to USDA estimates. Worldwide, that crop value is $217 billion.

That is why several countries including Germany, France and Italy have either banned neonicotinoid pesticides outright or severely limited its use.

Working with beehives

Yet despite this European action showing neonicotinoids are the culprit killing bees, the EPA continues to allow their use.

Petitioners say the EPA has known about this toxic culprit for years, but allows continued sales of the pesticides.

“The agency has full notice of the compound’s ability to destroy large numbers of bee colonies in the field,” says the Petition. A 2008 EPA study showed “hundreds of thousands of hives were destroyed in a highly probable case involving” the use of neonicotinoids.

“They are the most toxic compound on earth for honeybees,” said Ellis. “They are bee killers; they are designed to be insect killers. And they are really good at what they do.”

The EPA, begun under President Richard Nixon in 1970, is charged with protecting the health of Americans and the environment. Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the agency regulates pesticide use in farming.

What Does the EPA Know and When Did It Know It?

It is under the FIFRA federal law that the 27 petitioners and “hundreds of thousands” of other concerned Americans demand the EPA “stop the use of clothianidin,” a neonicotinoid pesticide. That “is at the heart of this Petition.”

From the bee to your table

The Times requested comment over several days from the EPA. But the EPA could not offer any timely comment on this story, as the comment process takes “two levels of approval,” said Dale Kemery, press officer with EPA.

The EPA did offer a response to Ellis and others two years ago. In the Feb. 18 letter the Office of Pesticide Programs “determined” that they followed the law and in “hundreds of studies” met all “risk standard uses.”

Director Steven Bradbury wrote: “I want you to know that EPA continues to advance its regulatory and scientific approaches to ensure honey bees and other pollinators are protected….”

That answer from Washington, D.C. did not sit well on the Front Range in Colorado.

“What they did in that response was they conveniently shifted the argument from honoring the law to whether or not there was adequate science,” said Tom Theobald, a beekeeper of 37 years who specializes in local natural honey.

“The issue with clothianidin (a neonicotinoid pesticide) is whether or not we expect an agency such as this to follow the law,” Theobald said. “It’s a game they play.”

And the game is called “agnotism,” explained Ellis, which is the art of keeping an issue unresolved with endless studies, debates and talk where nothing gets resolved.

“This is one more example of the manipulation of the system to the disadvantage of the people, but to the advantage of these mega corporations,” Theobald said. “This is like dealing with organized crime for crying out loud.”

But many other informed beekeepers, academics and industry experts say the “science” is not all that black and white clear.

“It’s not that they (neonicotinoids) are harmless,” said Randy Oliver, a beekeeper, researcher and teacher in northern California. “The question is when properly applied…they appear by all evidence, to be a vast improvement over previous classes of insecticides.”

And in serious science, facts matter.

“There simply is no supporting evidence that (neonicotinoid) application is causing harm to the bees,” Oliver said. “So people are polarizing between black and white. And it’s not black and white. Pesticides are all shades of gray.”

Not A Simple Issue To Resolve, Says the Other Side

Here the science is not so black and white in the battle of the bees.

“There are beekeepers that feel we should stick to evidence and be a part of the agricultural community and understand farmer’s needs,” he said. “There’s another contingent that feel that we should be aligned with environmental groups and petition the EPA and tell them how to do their job. There is a clear schism.”

Some see this environmental activism more like the Spanish Inquisition.

“It’s almost like the 1400s in the Inquisition. You know it’s all on speculation or faith, on rumor, more than it is on fact,” said Collin Henderson, vice president and project research manager at Bee Alert Technology, Inc. “It’s a mob mentality.”

Dr. Henderson remembers a time not long ago when passions in America raged over chemical use.

“We went through this whole thing with pesticides in the 60s and the Silent Spring and we had a lot of real nasty pesticides. They killed indiscriminately,” recalls Henderson.

And today with the “Green Movement” an anti-pesticide philosophy is again emerging no matter how safe and beneficial modern pesticide use is.

“It’s almost an anti-agriculture, anti-industrial pursuit,” Henderson said. “They are looking for a culprit, a victim. We’ve talked to a number of environmental folks who just jumped on the neonicotinoid bandwagon right away.”

And this bandwagon seems to pass blindly by the millions of dollars spent on numerous academic and government studies showing neonicotinoids are safe for bees.

“Literally there have been well over 100 studies on honeybee affects, looking at neonicotinoids,” said Jack Boyne, an entomologist and director of communications at Bayer CropScience, a leading producer of neonicotinoids.

“This would be studies of Bayer, university researchers, independent researchers have conducted on this thing. And the vast weight of those studies all say the same thing, that neonicotinoids do not represent a long-term hazard to honeybee colony health. And that’s also the conclusion of the EPA as well.”

USDA Believes Focus on Pesticides Is Misdirected

The USDA, the sister branch to the EPA, has also looked at this bee problem and sides with its sibling, Boyne said.

“Their conclusion has been, after three years of research and many millions of dollars, that bee health is a problem, but pesticides are not the answer,” Boyne said. “They believe there are other factors involved, but certainly not pesticides. They find efforts to focus on pesticides are misdirected.”

Bayer, like other chemical companies, is in the business to help and advance agriculture, Boyne said. They are not in the business to destroy their clients. 

“We are involved in the agriculture industry. We recognize the value of honeybees as pollinators,” Boyne said. “We have an inherent interest in agriculture and if agriculture depends on honeybees for pollination, well, so do we. It’s ludicrous to assume otherwise.”

This raging debate is now legally before the EPA, and the battle of the bees may soon head to federal court, where justice must prevail. All parties involved agree on this: Bees are important to our economy and society. And if we lose our bees, the U.S. as we know it is lost.

You can email Wayne Anderson at or get a wider understanding of him on his website at



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Wayne Anderson

Wayne Anderson is a warm beekeeper in northwest Wisconsin, who travels the world as a freelance news correspondent for Communities at The Washington Times and other fine media, covering the wars in the Middle East, reporting on and running from pirates off the coast of East Africa and sharing with readers the wonders of beekeeping in the strangest places around the world. 

Buzz on Bees is a column promoting the love and life of God’s greatest pollinators on earth: The Honeybee. Send me your input and column ideas. And I will work as busy as a bee to get them in print.   

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