More than 100 businesses, many of them food companies that depend heavily on pollinators for their products, sent a letter to the White House and multiple agencies Tuesday, urging the Environmental Protection Agency to protect pollinators by halting the use of certain pesticides.
Representatives from 118 businesses — including the owners of Clif Bar and Nature’s Path and the CEOs of Stonyfield and organic food company Amy’s — signed the letter, which calls on the EPA to immediately suspend its registration of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides which have been linked to bee declines by at least 30 studies. Neonics are used on a variety of U.S. crops, including corn, soybeans, oranges, and leafy greens. They been found to affect the nervous system of honeybees, with studies finding that exposure to neonics can cause honeybees to forget what food smells like and can create short- and long-term memory loss in bees.
“Our businesses are deeply concerned about the continued and unsustainable loss of bees and other essential pollinator populations and urge that significant action be taken now to address the threats they face from pesticides and other stressors threatening their survival,” the companies write in the letter. “Bee losses have a ripple effect across the entire economy, and in many cases, affect our bottom-line.”
Last year, a federal report found that fewer managed honeybees died during winter 2013 than during winter 2012, but scientists say bees are still in trouble: as one entomologist told the New York Times last May, the winter 2013 bee numbers show bee losses have gone “from horrible to bad.” Much of this decline has been blamed on Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon in which adult bees in a colony disappear from their hives, and which beekeepers have been experiencing since 2006.
As the companies in the letter state, bee losses are bad news for U.S. crops and for companies who depend on them. One-third of all agricultural output in the U.S. is dependent on some sort of pollination, and some key crops such as almonds and squash depend heavily on bees in particular. But the companies write that they’re also concerned about the importance of bees to the overall health of the environment.
“We are gravely concerned that it neonicotinoids continue to be allowed into our environment at current rates, this practice will have devastating impacts on our food supply, ecosystems and economic wellbeing,” the letter states.
The Obama administration has taken steps in recent years to protect the health of honeybees and other pollinators. June, the Obama administration issued an executive order that created a Pollinator Health Task Force. About a month later, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would phase out neonics in wildlife refuges in certain parts of the country. And in February of last year, the USDA announced it was investing $3 million into a program that pays farmers in the Midwest to make their farms more bee-friendly by doing things like planting alfalfa as a cover crop.
The food companies praised these actions as good first steps, but said more needs to be done to protect pollinators in the U.S.
The businesses aren’t the first to call for a ban or suspension of neonics. Last October, 60 members of Congress sent a letter to EPA Head Gina McCarthy, urging her agency to restrict or suspend the use of neonics on “bee-attractive crops.” The letter also calls on the EPA to stop and consider neonicotinoids’ impacts on pollinator species before registering new neonic pesticides, and states that the agency should restrict the use of neonics in commercial pesticides.
The U.S. may not have taken steps to ban neonics, but other countries and cities have. The European Union placed a ban on neonics in 2013, and in September, Seattle banned the use of neonics within city limits. Eugene, Oregon also voted to ban neonics last year.