A certain pesticide that’s been found to harm bees is no longer approved for use in the United States, after a federal appeals court struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s authorization of it Thursday.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the EPA shouldn’t have signed off on Dow AgroSciences’ sulfoxaflor, which is sold under the brand names Transform and Closer, because it didn’t seek necessary, additional tests on it.
“Because the EPA’s decision to unconditionally register sulfoxaflor was based on flawed and limited data, we conclude that the unconditional approval was not supported by substantial evidence,” the court’s opinion reads. “We therefore vacate the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor.”
Because existing tests found that the pesticide — which is part of a broad class of insecticides called neonicotinoids — was toxic to bees, letting sulfoxaflor stay approved would have been dangerous for the environment, Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder said.
“In this case, given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it,” she wrote.
Sulfoxaflor was approved in 2013 for use on a variety of crops, including citrus, potatoes, soybeans, and strawberries. But soon after, a group of U.S. beekeepers sued the EPA, calling on it to rescind the registration because of the pesticide’s toxicity to bees and other pollinators. This court decision was in response to the case.
Honeybees have experienced significant declines in recent years. A May survey found that, in total, U.S. beekeepers lost 42 percent of their bees from April 2014 to April 2015. And, for the first time last year, bee colony losses in the summer surpassed losses in winter — something that one bee expert called “extremely troubling.”
Neonicotinoids, like sulfoxaflor, have been pointed to as one of the causes of these bee losses. They’ve been found to damage bees’ brains, and general exposure to pesticides has been found to make bees more susceptible to infection. Honeybee colonies are also susceptible to infestation from varroa mites, a difficult-to-control parasite that latches onto bees and sucks their blood. And a recent study found that Argentine ants pose a danger to bees by infecting them with a deadly virus. Bee experts have said that the impact on pesticides as well as other potential causes of bee decline, such as sub-par nutrition, need to be studied further.
There has been some action on improving the health of bee colonies in the United States. Last year, President Obama signed an executive order that created a “federal strategy” aimed at promoting the health of honeybees and other pollinators. And in February, the USDA invested $3 million into an initiative to boost honeybee numbers.
Earthjustice, the environmental group that represented the group of beekeepers and trade groups involved with the sulfoxaflor case, applauded the court’s decision.
“Our country is facing widespread bee colony collapse, and scientists are pointing to pesticides like sulfoxaflar as the cause,” Greg Loarie, lead counsel on the case, said in a statement. “The court’s decision to overturn approval of this bee-killing pesticide is incredible news for bees, beekeepers and all of us who enjoy the healthy fruits, nuts, and vegetables that rely on bees for pollination.”