FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Court Holds Bee-killing Pesticide Approvals Violated the Law
EPA must analyze risks to endangered species
SAN FRANCISCO—A Federal Court has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) systematically violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – a key wildlife protection law – when it approved bee-killing insecticides known as neonicotinoids. In a case ongoing for the last four years, brought by beekeepers, wildlife conservation groups, and food safety and consumer advocates, Judge Maxine Chesney of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that EPA had unlawfully issued 59 pesticide registrations between 2007 and 2012 for a wide variety of agricultural, landscaping and ornamental uses.
“This is a vital victory,” said George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety legal director. “Science shows these toxic pesticides harm bees, endangered species and the broader environment. More than fifty years ago, Rachel Carson warned us to avoid such toxic chemicals, and the court’s ruling may bring us one step closer to preventing another Silent Spring.”
Seeds coated with bee-killing neonicotinoid insecticides are now used on more than 150 million acres of U.S. corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops – totaling an area bigger than the state of California and Florida combined – the largest use of any insecticides in the country by far. Additional proceedings have been ordered to determine the correct remedy for EPA’s legal violations, which may lead to cancelling the 59 pesticide products and registrations, including many seed coating insecticides approved for scores of different crop uses.
The court’s ruling went against other claims in the lawsuit based on the plaintiffs’ 2012 petition and their procedural argument that EPA had not published several required Federal Register Notices. The beekeepers and others plaintiffs were relying on a petition filed in March of 2012, at which time the scientific evidence of the harm to bees, other critical species and the broader environment was far less developed. The original petition however is still lodged with EPA, and as such, its resolution is not yet fully decided.
“Vast amounts of scientific literature show the hazards these chemicals pose are far worse than we knew five years ago – and it was bad even then,” said CFS attorney Peter Jenkins. “The nation’s beekeepers continue to suffer unacceptable mortality of 40 percent annually and higher. Water contamination by these insecticides is virtually out of control. Wild pollinators and wetland-dependent birds are in danger. EPA must act to protect bees and the environment.”
The case is Ellis v. Housenger. The plaintiffs in the case are beekeepers Steve Ellis, Tom Theobald, Jim Doan, and Bill Rhodes; Center for Food Safety (CFS); Beyond Pesticides; Sierra Club; and Center for Environmental Health. They are represented by CFS’s legal team.
Neonicotinoids are a class of highly toxic insecticides designed to damage the central nervous system of insects, causing tremors, paralysis and death at even very low doses. Since the mid-2000s, their use through various methods has skyrocketed. Methods include sprays, soil drenches, tree injections and others. However, by far their greatest use in terms of U.S. land area affected is as crop seed coatings – a process by which agrichemicals are mixed together with large batches of seeds in order to coat them before the seeds are planted. Neonicotinoids persist in soil and are readily transported via air, dust and water both within and outside the planted fields. After seeds coated with neonics are planted, the chemicals spread far beyond the crop they are intended for and can contaminate nearby wildflowers, soil and water — all of which pose significant threats to bees foraging and nesting in the area. It has been known for several years that these chemicals can kill or weaken more than just the targeted pests. Non-target harm can occur to beneficial invertebrates, as well as to birds and other wildlife, through both direct and indirect effects.