By Timothy D. Backstrom, Lisa M. Campbell, and James V. Aidala
On January 21, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is registering a new insecticide, flupyradifurone, which EPA claims is “safer for bees” and will be “an alternative to more toxic products including pyrethroid, neonicotinoid, organophosphate and avermectin insecticides.” EPA has been under increasing pressure to take action to mitigate a decline in the viability of honeybee colonies known as colony collapse disorder or CCD. The neonicotinoid class of insecticides has been a subject of particular regulatory scrutiny, based on assertions that pesticides in this group are particularly toxic to pollinators. EPA has been reluctant to single out pesticide use as the dominant cause of CCD, and has suggested that habitat loss, infections with the varoa mite, and exposure to other pathogens are likely to be contributing factors as well.
In early 2013, the European Food Safety Authority released a risk assessment indicating that three neonicotinoids, clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam, pose an acute risk to pollinators, which led subsequently to a two-year suspension of the registrations for these three neonicotinoids in the European Union. Later that year, EPA informed registrants that it would require new labeling for neonicotinoids to mitigate risks to pollinators. In June 2014, President Obama issued a memorandum creating a federal task force to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators, and directed EPA to assess the effects of pesticides, “including neonicotinoids,” on pollinator health.
Neonicotinoids have become more popular in large measure because of restrictions on organophosphate use that were intended to protect applicators and to reduce potential dietary risks from treated commodities. Although EPA has not expressly determined its view regarding how much neonicotinoids are contributing to CCD, EPA has been under pressure to take decisive action to address the risk to pollinators. By characterizing a newly registered insecticide primarily in terms of the risk that it poses to bees, EPA appears to be suggesting that alternatives to the neonicotinoids will become an important part of the regulatory response to CCD.
By James V. Aidala
On June 20, 2014, the White House issued a “Presidential Memorandum -- Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.” The strategy is directed to all federal agencies and is designed to “expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels.” The text of the memorandum lists a number of goals and comments on pollinator health, and has a focus on setting up a government-wide task force, along with directives about research into the factors affecting pollinator health and suggestions to improve pollinator habitat. The role and possible impacts of pesticides on pollinators are mentioned, but are not prominent. Specifically, the memorandum mentions that one of the strategies to consider is to include “identification of existing and new methods and best practices to reduce pollinator exposure to pesticides, and new cost-effective ways to control bee pests and diseases.” Finally, it directs the new federal task force to report back to President Obama in six months.
Six months from the date of the memorandum is drawing near (December 20) -- so now, where are we? In summary, remarks by those leading the task force (staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)) report that the response to the memorandum is now planned to be sent to the White House in draft form around the due date (the Holidays probably allowing for some schedule wiggle room), and that the public will be allowed to comment on the suggestions. That might mean a public release of the draft plan sometime in early Spring 2015, a date that coincidentally could dovetail with the beginning of the use season for commercial honeybee services (the almond crop in California begins to need bees around February depending on weather, temperature, and related considerations). No public release of the strategy is expected for at least 90 days or more. Private conversations and trade press reports indicate some slowness in convening and coordinating such a large and diverse group of agencies, as some agencies appear reluctant to participate in significant ways or otherwise are not sure exactly how or what their contribution to the effort should be (that, of course, is one of the main points of the exercise).
EPA and USDA have hosted two “listening sessions” on the memo -- on November 12 and 17 -- in Washington, D.C. Little detail was presented by the hosts; mostly it was open microphone with no advanced sign-up, so participants gave remarks in person or by phone. EPA and USDA did tell the audience that they would receive written comments on the memorandum if submitted by November 24. All of this public input will apparently go into the process of formulating the strategy. Many commenters, in fact most of those who spoke, had a “for or against” opinion about pesticide use and any possible impact on pollinators. Very few spoke of habitat issues or the research issues, even though those concerns dominate the text of the President’s memorandum.
By Lisa M. Campbell
On July 7, 2014, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a petition requesting that EPA commence a Special Review for the neonicotinoid pesticides, including six specific active ingredients (dinotefuran, acetamiprid, clothianidin, thiacloprid, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam), based on the risk that NRDC believes this class of compounds poses to honey bees and native bees. In the petition, NRDC alleges that neonicotinoids “may suppress bee immunity, disrupt brood cycles, impair foraging behavior by interfering with memory and learning, and cause disorientation, preventing bees from finding their way back to the hive.” By submitting this petition, NRDC effectively asks that EPA expedite the evaluation of the effect of this class of active ingredients on pollinators that EPA already intends to undertake as part of the Registration Review process required by Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 3(g), 7 U.S.C. § 136a(g). A copy of the petition is available online.
By James V. Aidala
On June 20, 2014, President Obama issued a Presidential memorandum entitled “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.” The memorandum creates a Pollinator Health Task Force, which will be co-chaired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Task Force will develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, which includes a Pollinator Research Action Plan, Public Education Plan, and public-private partnerships. In addition, Task Force members will take steps to increase and improve pollinator habitat. The Presidential memorandum is available online.
Various stakeholders anticipated some kind of Presidential activity during Pollinator Week, and these pronouncements establish some new initiatives that are not likely too controversial among the pesticide registrant community. Nevertheless, their issuance and activities that will take place as a result of them bear close attention and monitoring from the registrant community, particularly as advocacy groups may see the actions as too little.
Under the Presidential memorandum, the Pollinator Health Task Force has 180 days to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, which shall include explicit goals, milestones, and metrics to measure progress.