Agency Close to Approving Mass Pesticide Spraying That Will Harm Helpful Insects
The administrator of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is now taking steps that could promote expanding the use of insecticides that are helping befuddle and kill off bees.
Neonicotinoids, the world’s most popular insecticides, affect the central nervous systems of insects, causing paralysis and death. The European Union imposed a partial ban on three neonicotinoids in 2013 because of the harm the insecticides can do to bees and butterflies that pollinate plants. Honeybee colonies have fallen by 59% in North America.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is considering allowing a type of neonicotinoid, thiamethoxam, manufactured by Syngenta, to be sprayed directly on about 165 million acres of wheat, barley, corn, sorghum, alfalfa, rice and potatoes. Thiamethoxam is currently used as a seed coating.
“If the EPA grants Syngenta’s wish, it will spur catastrophic declines of aquatic invertebrates and pollinator populations that are already in serious trouble,” said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program.
Former President Barack Obama ordered the EPA in 2014 to assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bees and other insects that pollinate plants. The EPA has been evaluating imidacloprid and clothianidin, manufactured by Bayer; thiamethoxam; dinotefuran, developed by Mitsui Chemicals; and acetamiprid, sold by Nisso Chemical.
Trump met with Bayer CEO Werner Baumann before he even took office, and a former lobbyist for the pesticide industry, Rebeckah Adcock, is now a top official at the Department of Agriculture. CropLife America, the trade group for the pesticide industry, has spent about $1.9 million on federal lobbying so far in 2017.
Syngenta CEO Erik Fyrwald has defended his company’s pesticides.
“There are numerous things impacting bee health,” Fyrwald said. “One of the very minor elements there is pesticides.”
The Trump-Pruitt EPA, which has decided it is OK to use pesticides that cause brain damage in children, was reluctant under Obama to take action on neonicotinoids. In January, the agency released draft risk reviews of dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam that downplayed potential risks of the pesticides to bees.
Syngenta’s proposal was released on the same day in December that the EPA also released new assessments of risks from neonicotinoids to aquatic insects.
The Natural Resources Defense Council sued the EPA and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in October, saying the agency hadn’t evaluated the impact of neonicotinoids on threatened and endangered species. The lawsuit claimed that the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act by approving products containing neonicotinoids without consulting federal wildlife officials on the potential risks to endangered species.