(Beyond Pesticides March 18, 2015) Fifty-two members of Congress penned a letter to the White House, calling for the protection of the Monarch butterfly, which has declined by 90 percent in the last 20 years, and for listing as a âthreatenedâ species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This comes on the heels of a formalÂ noticeÂ of intent to sue submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to protect threatened and endangered species, including butterflies, amphibians and birds, from flupyradifurone, a newly approved systemic insecticide.
The letter sent to President Obama on Tuesday was spearheaded by Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), a long-time advocate for protecting monarch butterflies. In her press release, Rep. Pingree notes that the annual migration of monarchs from North America to Mexico has plummeted because of the use of herbicides on genetically engineered (GE) crops in the U.S.Â The herbicides have wiped out milkweed, the main food for monarchs. Â According to the letter, efforts by farmers, local, state and federal agencies to boost habitat are laudable, but without changes in how the federal government addresses the use of herbicides, especially as applied to herbicide-resistant crops, vital monarch habitats will simply continue to disappear. “We believe that the Endangered Species Act represents the last best chance to save this amazing species and its incredible migration,” the letter notes.
“When the monarchs got to Mexico they used to cover 50 square miles.Â By 2013 they covered an area about the size of a football field,” Rep. Pingree said.Â “The loss of habitat and devastation of the monarch population should be a wakeup call.Â If we keep applying ever increasing amounts of chemicals to farmlands, it’s going to have an impact on the environment.”
One day earlier, conservation and food-safety groups submitted a formalÂ noticeÂ of intent to sue EPA for failing to protect threatened and endangered species, including butterflies, amphibians and birds, from flupyradifurone, a newly approved systemic insecticide. In registration documents, EPA acknowledges that flupyradifurone could harm wildlife protected under the Endangered Species Act but failed to consult with expert wildlife agencies as required by the ESA before issuing registration approval earlier this year. According to the groups, the new insecticide would be especially harmful to imperiled, solitary bees like the blue orchard bee. These bees are prolific pollinators, important for pollinating agricultural crops, and already suffering from the effects of other systemic insecticides.
When EPA announced it completed the registration of this new insecticide in January 2015, the agency noted that the chemical would be marketed as an alternative to neonicotinoid pesticides, and âsafer for bees.â But a closer look at this chemical revealed that the agency is grossly misleading the public on the ecological safety of flupyradifurone since the chemical is systemic, persistent, and highly acutely toxic to adult honey bees. Flupyradifurone (âSivantoâ) is a new systemic, butenolide insecticide from Bayer CropScience that is to be used on crops such as citrus, cotton, potatoes and many others, and also as seed treatment. The chemical is a neurotoxic insecticide that can inhibit nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) in the nervous system. Neonicotinoids, widely linked to devastating health impacts on bees,Â affect the nervous system in the same way. However, EPA states that flupyradifurone differs from neonicotinoids because of the way it binds to the receptors andÂ how it is metabolized. However, most troubling is that, based on EPAâs registration documents, the chemical is highly toxic to adult bees for short-term oral exposures. EPAâs registration document states, âWhile the acute oral toxicity study indicates that flupyradifurone is highly toxic to individual adult honey beesâŚâ Â For bees that come into surface contact with the chemical, EPA states in one document that the chemical is âpractically nontoxic to adult bees on an acute contact exposure basis,â but in another document it reports, âIn the acute contact toxicity test, some bees showed movement coordination problems or lethargy at the two highest concentrationsâŚâ after a few hours of exposure. EPA notes that the field studies reveal high mortality in adult bees within 24 hours of treatment
EPA failed to consider the highly toxic impacts of this new systemic insecticide on native pollinators such as bees- especially solitary bees, butterflies, and on a range of birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and aquatic invertebrates. According to the groups that submitted the notice of intent to sue, there areÂ 4,000 species of solitary bees living in the U.S. whose wellbeing EPA effectively ignores. In fact, EPAâs own risk assessment recognizes that this pesticide is both persistent and mobile, meaning it will reach aquatic environments and put additional species at risk.
For decades the EPA has approved hundreds of pesticides that can harm endangered wildlife without consulting expert wildlife agencies as required by the Endangered Species Act. In 2013 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report identifying problems and suggested solutions to correct the agencyâs flawed approach for reviewing the impacts of pesticides on endangered wildlife. Accordingly, in approving flupyradifurone, the EPA failed to remedy the problems identified by that report and did not complete the required ESA consultation.
It was about one year ago that EPA introduced to the market sulfoxaflor, another bee-toxic insecticide registered by EPA despite warnings from concerned groups and beekeepers. Beekeepers have since sued EPA over the registration of sulfoxaflor. Soon thereafter EPA registered another highly toxic bee pesticide, cyantraniliprole. A notice of intent to sue was also submitted to EPA regarding cyantraniliprole for failure to consult under the ESA. Given the global phenomenon of pollinator decline and the precautionsÂ taken by European nations to protect bees and other pollinators, advocates are calling itÂ irresponsible for EPAÂ to allow into the environment more chemicals wit highÂ hazardÂ potentialÂ for bee health, before a full analysis on their impacts to all threatened and endangered species. To many, EPAâs decisions on the approval on these latest pesticides appears counter to current agency and interagency work to protect pollinators.
You too can make a difference! If you are interested in giving your support to saving the honey bees, go to save-bees.org and sign the petition. You also can work to get bee-toxic neonicotinoids like thiacloprid out of your community. It takes a lot of work and commitment, but it can be done with some perseverance. Itâs important to find support âfriends, neighbors, and other people who share your concerns about environmental health. Itâs also essential to reach out to your local politicians and government .Beyond Pesticides has resources and fact sheets available to help you organize in your community. You can also call (202-543-5450) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for one-on-one consultation about the strategies you can take to have an impact.
Learn more about pollinator issues and what you can do at the 33rd National Pesticide Forum,Â Agricultural Justice, Age of Organics, and Alligators, Protecting health, biodiversity, and ecosystems,Â in Orlando, Florida April 17-18, 2015.Â Get more information and register today!
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.