About 100 activists, concerned citizens and beekeepers, including Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and CCD Posterboy David Hackenberg huddled outside of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters on an overcast but mild mid-morning to protest systemic pesticides that continue to slowly kill honeybees and humans. Many protesters, including a few dogs, were adorned in black and yellow while others held signs that read "Save Our Hives."
On the street, a few yards away, Hackenberg had parked his 40 ft. flatbed truck full of empty hives. At about noon, we hooked up a microphone and a small hive of us took turns protesting our love of bees and the need to ban systemic pesticides. Lisa Jackson, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was nowhere in sight.
"The EPA …continues to look the other way while Clothianidin and other systemic pesticides continue to harm our bees," said Jay Feldman Executive Director, Beyond Pesticides. "Bees have shown persistence in trying to hang in there and so will we. We need to impress upon the EPA that we are not going away."
One in three bites of food is reliant on honey bee pollination. As many of you may know by now, the unchecked use of dangerous systemic pesticides has resulted in alarming honey bee losses across America and the world. Colony Collapse Disorder was first reported in 2006 - and despite six years of continued bee deaths - the EPA refuses to suspend the use of systemic pesticides. It's become normal for beekeepers to lose more than 30% of their honey bee colonies each year.
Clothianidin is especially dangerous because we live in a corn nation. There are more than 88.2 million acres of maize growing in this country. Not only are 85 percent of those crops genetically modified, they are also treated with the systemic Clothianidin, meaning the poison gets taken up by the plant's vascular system and is expressed through pollen and nectar. And while corn is wind-pollinated, the bees do bring pollen and nectar back home when the corn tassels or when there is a dearth of food.
Furthermore, dust from the pesticide-coated seeds floats out over the countryside during planting. It lands on bees and other flowering plants and builds up over time in the soil.
Recapitulation In Large Brushstrokes:
Feb 2003: The EPA tells Clothianidin's manufacturer Bayer CropScience, that they recognize that this pesticide poses a toxic threat to bees. Bayer meanwhile maintains that while the pesticide poses a risk at high doses, it is safe when used as directed. Bayer fails to meet all the necessary data requirements but what the hell, the EPA gives it conditional approval.
Dec 2010: Beekeeper and activist Tom Theobald discovers a series of EPA memos online from 2003 that confirm that EPA scientists did indeed attest that Clothianidin is poisonous to bees. Apparently, EPA scientists wanted field tests conducted and completed before making the pesticides available to the public, but Theobald learns that's not exactly what happened.
Why? Because Congress has a lovely provision in pesticide policy called "conditional registration," whereby pesticides can hit the shelves after a set of core safety studies - but before all of the environmental effects are known. So even though the chemical was clearly toxic to bees in a lab, it was allowed onto the market while the EPA awaited further field tests on long-term impacts to bee colonies. (Might as well make a lil dough in the process, if ya know what I mean?).
EPA scientists ask for field studies to be completed in one and a half years - but the pesticide remains on the market a full four years before they submit their results!!!! Effin crazy!
As you may not know, the EPA does not do its own research. Chemical companies hire their own people or conduct tests in their own labs. They design the tests. They conduct the tests. They pay for the tests. It's called the Fox Guarding the Henhouse. Incidentally, Bayer made $48,267,733,920 this past year. Yah, that's in billions!
Of course, Bayer found the compound safe for bees. The EPA accepted their research, but Tom Theobald saw something very suspicious. Bayer conducted the study in Canada on a two and a half acre plot. Hello? Bees travel up to five miles to forage.
"To think this would give us any kind of valid science is ridiculous," exclaimed Theobald.
He isn't the only who calls the industry tests "bad science."
March 2012: Twenty-five beekeepers and environmental organizations file a legal petition, citing significant acute and chronic bee kills across the United States linked to neonicotinoid pesticides, particularly Clothianidin. Groups such as Avaaz, Change.org, Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Food Safety submit close to two million signatures from concerned citizens' worldwide, asking for Clothianidin to be banned!
July 2012: EPA formally refuses to recognize that honey bees face an "imminent hazard" and continues to keep Clothianidin on the marketplace. They deny a portion of the petition, making two arguments: first, the agency says the petitioners failed to consider whether the potential harm caused by the pesticide is "unreasonable" when weighed against the benefits to the agricultural sector. In other words, profits are way more important than people and planet.
Second, EPA says that even though meeting that standard is necessary to ban a pesticide, the agency finds that the research submitted with the petition is inconclusive. WTF?
"EPA has failed in its statutory responsibility to protect beekeeper livelihoods and the environment from an 'imminent hazard.' The agency explicitly refused to consider the massive amount of supplemental information we submitted that came to light after we filed the petition," said Peter Jenkins, attorney at Center for Food Safety and author of the legal petition.
"We demand the EPA respond to the millions of Americans that have asked to remove this pesticide from our food system," stated Congressman Kucinich during our rally. He and his wife, Elizabeth keep a top bar hive in their garden. As vegans, they do not eat the honey, but they appreciate the bees' role in pollinating their home garden. Elizabeth is also co-producing a film on GMOs.
Kucinich urged the EPA and their research partners at the USDepartment of Agriculture to recognize the very real evidence that these systemics have on honey bee populations.
These systemics are insidious because they kill slowly. These sub-lethal effects are also slowly killing humans. They lend to the increasing cases of cancer, Alzheimer's, allergies, and auto-immune disorders. How could they not? We are poisoned everyday through the earth, air, water and our food.
By the way, Clothianidin has been banned in parts of Germany (it was recently lifted in some areas), Italy, France and other countries. Why not America? How can we be a 'super power' and have it so backwards? Aside from corn, these poisons are also widely used on beets, sunflowers and other crops.
"Bees are essential to agriculture. Without them, we may not have fruits, vegetables and other essential crops that they pollinate. If we continue to ignore the role that these pesticides are playing, we are participating not only in the destruction of honeybees, but in the destruction of the natural world of which we are a part. The EPA cannot ignore this important issue," added Kucinich.
Enough is Enough
Following the rally, a small group including David Hackenberg, Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides and Peter Jenkins, were invited to meet with Jim Jones. Not the rapper or cult leader, but the Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP).
Since making Vanishing of the Bees, a handful of studies have come out from reputable universities such as Purdue, Harvard School of Public Health, and Stirling in Britain, all showing that systemics are indeed dangerous to honeybees.
And recently in a study published in the prestigious journal Nature, researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, in Egham, UK, showed that low-level exposure to a combination of two pesticides is more harmful to bumblebee colonies than either pesticide on its own. The results suggest that current methods for regulating pesticides are inadequate because they consider only lethal doses of single pesticides.
"Despite all the studies out there, the Agency determined that they just don't agree with us on the science and that there is not sufficient information to conclude that pesticides play a significant role in 'bee difficulties'," said Feldman following the meeting. "I wish I had better news."
Consequently, the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and the Sierra Club, along with affected citizens from around the country, filed a Sixty-Day Notice letter with EPA announced their intent to jointly sue the agency for Endangered Species Act (ESA) violations.
The planned lawsuit highlights EPA's continuing failure to ensure, through consultation with the USFish and Wildlife Service, that its numerous product approvals for the neonicotinoid insecticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam are not likely to jeopardize any Federally-listed threatened or endangered species.
In the nine years since the EPA conditionally registered Clothianidin for use on corn and canola, the agency has admitted to both the hazards of the insecticide and the need for compliance with ESA. The EPA fact sheet on Clothianidin reads as follows:
"Clothianidin is expected to present acute and/or chronic toxicity risk to endangered/threatened birds and mammals via possible ingestion of treated corn and canola seeds. Endangered/threatened non-target insects may be impacted via residue laden pollen and nectar. The potential use sites cover the entire US because corn is grown in almost all US states."
At the moment, the EPA has until 2018 to review the safety of neonicotinoids for honeybees.
"We need the EPA to think creatively to stop the pain and bleeding now, while they determine the long-term issues," maintains Feldman.