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Big Win for Bees: judge pulls bee toxic pesticide

Josh Mogerman

Posted January 6, 2010

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Honeybee 7-09 image by wmspics via Flickr

There are a lot of chemicals on the American market.

And seemingly more are introduced every day to help make our lives simpler, houses cleaner, and lawns greener. We use them, assuming that they have gone through an appropriate process to ensure that these chemicals cannot harm us or the environment. Sadly, that process seems to have failed recently with some pesticides called Movento and Ultor. No, you aren’t in any danger…

…but your food might be…

Movento and Ultor are trade names for a new pesticide called spirotetramat. In June 2008, EPA approved Movento for nationwide use on hundreds of different crops, including apples, pears, peaches, oranges, tomatoes, grapes, strawberries, almonds, and spinach. This, despite very significant concerns from scientists and beekeepers about the product’s toxicity to honey bees. And sadly, those concerned folks did not get a chance to voice those concerns because the pesticide’s approval process went forward without the advance notice and opportunity for public comment that is required by federal law and EPA’s own regulations. In addition, NRDC’s legal experts feel that the EPA failed to fully evaluate the potential damage to the nation’s already beleaguered bee populations or conduct the required analysis of the pesticide’s economic, environmental, and social costs.

But, hey, it’s the New Year, so I am staying positive. And there is good news about this particular chemical. NRDC and Xerces Society challenged the illegal registration of spirotetramat and won in December. A federal court in New York invalidated EPA’s approval of the pesticideand ordered the agency to reevaluate the chemical in compliance with the law. The court found that EPA "utterly failed" to comply with the law and gave "no explanation whatsoever for these shortcomings." The court’s order goes into effect on January 15, 2010, and makes future sales of Movento illegal in the United States.

In bringing this lawsuit, NRDC sought not only to protect bees but also to force reform in EPA’s evaluation practices for pesticides and other chemicals. Bees are hardly the only thing that the current process systematically fails to evaluate, such as the environmental effect of pesticide mixtures.  In the real world, pesticides aren’t used alone but in combination with other pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.  The synergistic effects can be highly toxic even where a single pesticide is deemed safe.

The court’s decision forces Movento to be pulled from store shelves. Some might think this is a dramatic move, but the stakes are high. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), bees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops grown in America. USDA also claims that one out of every three mouthfuls of food in the typical American diet has a connection to bee pollination. Yet bee colonies in the United States have seen significant declines in recent years due to a combination of stressors, almost certainly including insecticide exposure.

So EPA and Bayer CropScience (the pesticide’s maker) will need to start the chemical registration process over. And when they do, you can be sure that they will hear NRDC, beekeepers, and scientists expressing concern over Movento’s potential impact on beneficial insects such as honey bees. It won’t be a surprise, since EPA’s review of Bayer’s scientific studies found that trace residues of Movento brought back to the hive by adult bees could cause “significant mortality” and “massive perturbation” to young honeybees (larvae). Let’s hope that this issue gets more play with the regulators when the process moves forward…

…and more importantly, let’s hope this is a reminder to EPA of the importance of the process. We can’t mess with American bees without messing with the American food supply.


Honeybee 7-09 image by wmspics via Flickr

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Bobbie WoodJan 7 2010 12:02 PM

I can't even begin to express how thankful I am that their are dedicated people who take the time, energy, and persistence required to keep a gigantic agency like the EPA and the big money corporations in line and legal. It's so distressing that the EPA, and other government agencies set up to protect the people and the natural environment, are clearly *failing* in favor of siding with money-interests. Thanks Josh, this article made my day. :) Keep up the good work NRDC and Xerces!

JanetteJan 7 2010 12:34 PM

This is indeed an excellent article and a long awaited one at that. With respect we must remember that we all need (not just in America) to stop playing with our food chain! Honey bees do so much more than the very important pollination of food and beautiful plants and their excellent healing produce such as honey, which we would all, lets face it, miss them when they're gone! What would we all do without our jeans? Yes the honeybee starts the process off with those too! You never know what you had until its gone......there's a lot of truth in that.

Hans van den BroekJan 14 2010 04:43 PM

Velp 14 January 2010,

Dear Friends in the USA,

And now must we work as Citizen in 194 Countries around this planet the Earth to forbid GMO and dito POISON like example the pesticide Roundup (et al) with Glyphosate and their Metabolite AMPA...The last is also 100% POISON bad for this generation but much more bad for all next generations. I ask all the Citizen in the USA to come in action, because your Country the USA they did started with the pesticide Roundup (et al) with Glyphosate and their Metabolite AMPA circa 1970 also now '40 years' agoo.
We find in Glyphosate, Glycine, Seatmeel, Clair-Albumen and Sugar.........To bad! We in Europe we know it is very bad for the health for human people, their animals, birds, insects, amfibians, fish, microben, plants, bush and trees and we in Europe find Glyphosate and Metabolite AMPA in our drinkwater, our food also from our animals, birds and fish. WHY must we Citizen breathe, eat and drink POISON?
It is only profitable for few Chemical- and Seed Firms, Chemical- and Pharmaceutical Firms and their Sellers and for some Political People.

The Environment Protecting Agency the EPA in the USA is good busy they make also GLYPHOSATE for discussion. They know that Genetic Modified Food or Modified Food is bad because we will allways find Chemical Toxicals we make from our Girls, Woman, Women with a fetus or a Baby in their belly and Mothers they given their Babys breast-milk yes we make from them "CHEMICAL BOMBS"

WHY NOT STOP our 194 Parliaments and Governments with the 194 Presidents? Included the FAO and the WHO and the CODEX ALIMENTARIUS COMMISSION in Rom-Italy they know that we Citizen eat and drink POISON like the pesticide Roundup, you can read it on the website of the FAO by search and use Roundup......Come immediate in the CODEX ALIMENTARIUS COMMISSION in Rom-Italy.

Best regards from a beekeeper,

Hans van den Broek
Stalen Enk 16
6881 BR Velp
t int.+31-26-362 1449

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