You've heard the story of the birds and the bees -- if not, we don't know what to tell you.
Hopefully, you picked up on the innuendo: bees like to fly around and pollinate everything. Get the parallel?
Pollination is necessary for fertilizing many of the crops that we eat: almonds, quince, lemon, lime -- the list goes on and on.
Bees have been under intense pressure for the majority of the last decade with the onslaught of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). While the exact causes for CCD are uncertain, there have been several links to a group of commonly used pesticides classified as neonicotinoids.
After years of losing bees, beekeepers have teamed up with environmental groups to fight back with lawsuits filed against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In May, the EPA granted unconditional registrations for the new active ingredient sulfoxaflor, a chemical that falls under the classification of neonicotinoids.
National beekeeping organizations and the National Honey Bee Advisory Board are suing the EPA for its approval of the newly approved pesticide. They believe it is deadly to honey bees.
The plaintiffs in the case, the National Pollinator Defense Fund, American Honey Producers Association, National Honey Bee Advisory Board, the American Beekeeping Federation, and beekeepers Bret Adee, Jeff Anderson and Thomas R. Smith, have filed an appeal against the EPA in US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, petitioning for changes in the sulfoxaflor label, the Biological Economic Assessment Division of importance of pollinators and their nature, and the EPA's risk assessment process.
More than 100 of our food crops require cross-pollination between two different varieties of flowers to produce fruit. Sulfoxaflor has been approved for many of these crops: canola, citurs, okra, etc. The changes would acknowledge the important role of pollinators in the food supply, guaranteeing that all decisions regarding new pesticides apply with laws respecting their safety.
The EPA claims it evaluated its overall effects on pollinators.
According to the EPA website:
One area of focus in the review involved pollinator health, and the final label includes robust terms for protecting pollinators. The EPA performed its data evaluation and assessments in collaboration with its counterpart agencies in Canada and Australia. Scientists from the three authorities reviewed over 400 studies and peer reviewed each other's work.
According to Dr. Leo Gosser, biochemist and president of the Broward Beekeepers Association, the problem lies with the EPA's facile approval process.
"Testing doesn't follow long term effects," he said. "Neonicotinoids get carried back to the developing hive and get passed onto the brood. They're not testing every stage; the objective is to see the product on the market."
Back in March, another case, Ellis v. Bradbury -- named after plaintiff, beekeeper Steve Ellis -- against the EPA demanded a stoppage of the use of two other neonicotinoid pesticides (clothianidin and thiamethoxam) that many beekeepers and scientists believe are the cause of CCD. The suit is attempting to not only ban the use of the injurious ingredients, but to question the way the EPA accepts the use of pesticides in the future.
While the U.S. has only started to legally address the use of these chemicals recently, overseas concerns of their potential harm have already halted their use.
"Neonicotinoids have been banned in Europe," said Gosser. "It's been proven to be causing issues with the bees there. The EPA approved it without proper testing."
The ban Gosser is referring to happened in April of this year. The European Union voted to ban some of the neonicotinoids for two years due to their deleterious effects on bee populations.
The economic impact on both sides of the suits could have tremendous effects. If the EPA bans these pesticides, farmer's will have to figure out another way to protect their crops from harmful insects. On the other hand, if beekeepers continue to lose hives at such drastic rates, the effects on the U.S. food supply could be catastrophic.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to New Times Broward-Palm Beach's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling South Florida's stories with no paywalls.