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Bee Decline & Pesticide Use

Center for Food Safety

One in every three bites of food we eat is from a crop pollinated by bees. Yet, over the past decade, we have witnessed an alarming decline in honey bee and other pollinator populations around the world. According to a government sponsored survey, on average, beekeepers reported 51.1% annual hive losses during the winter of 2013/14, with 66% of all beekeepers reporting higher losses than they deemed acceptable. Today, many beekeepers continue to report annual losses of 40-50%, with some as high as 100%.

There are an overwhelming number of scientific studies linking bee declines to pesticide use and illustrating the far reaching impacts toxic chemical pesticides have on a wide range of environments. These bee-harmful pesticides have many long-term detrimental effects and pose an increased risk to fragile ecosystems.

Specifically, the pesticides linked to pollinator declines are a group of nicotine-based systemic insecticides called neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides in the world, and unlike traditional pesticides, that are typically applied to the surface of plants, neonicotinoids are systemic—meaning they are absorbed and transported through all parts of the plant tissue. Honey bees and other pollinators are exposed to these toxic chemicals through pollen, nectar, dust, dew droplets on plant leaves, and in the soil where many native bee species nest. Modeled after nicotine, neonicotinoids interfere with the nervous system of insects, causing tremors, paralysis, and eventually death. Neonicotinoids are up to 10,000 times more toxic to bees than other insecticides and their use can have immediate and long-term effects.

Neonicotinoids are also concerning because they persist in the environment and can accumulate quickly.  This characteristic has caused contamination of surface water, groundwater and soil, endangering species that inhabit these ecosystems.  Harmful effects from this type of contamination have been identified in aquatic invertebrates, and additional concern exists with respect to long-term impacts on waterfowl, rangeland birds and other wild animals.

In March 2013, CFS and a coalition of four beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups filed a lawsuit against the EPA for its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides.  The coalition, represented by attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), seeks suspension of the neonicotinoids that have repeatedly been identified as highly toxic to honey bees, clear causes of major bee kills, and significant contributors to the devastating ongoing decline of bees. The lawsuit was filed exactly one year after Center for Food Safety and a coalition of 25 prominent beekeepers filed an Emergency Petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking for a suspension of the use of certain neonicotinoid pesticides until they are proven safe to pollinators and our environment.

Our Pollinators & Pesticides campaign is a multi-faceted approach utilizing legal, political and grassroots strategies to encourage action from our government, policymakers and citizens to suspend the use of toxic neonicotinoids and protect food security.

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