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Genetic Engineering

Sierra Club sues EPA to protect honeybees, a major pollinator

On March 21, 2013, Sierra Club. along with other conservation groups, beekeepers and consumer groups, filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the Environmental Protection Agency (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 registrations of insecticides that have been identified as clear causes of major bee kills and significant contributors to the devastating ongoing mortality of bees known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). 

The suit challenges EPA's ongoing handling of the pesticides as well as the agency's practice of "conditional registration" and labeling deficiencies.

The suit comes on the heels of a challenging season for California's almond farmers, who produce 80% of the world's almonds.  Almond growers rely on beekeepers to bring billions of bees from across the country to pollinate their orchards.  However, many beekeepers are reporting losses of over 50% this year and the shortages have left many California almond growers without enough bees to effectively pollinate their trees.  This is a vivid demonstration of why the plaintiffs are demanding EPA to classify these bee-toxic pesticides as an "imminent hazard" and move swiftly to restrict their use.    

The pesticides involved, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, are neonicotinoids, a newer class of insecticides that are now being used to coat crops and thus end up being absorbed by plants and transported throughout the plant's vascular tissue, making the plant potentially toxic to insects. 

According to Peter Jenkins, attorney for the CFS,  "Beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups have demonstrated time and time again over the last several years that EPA needs to protect bees.  The agency has refused, so we've been compelled to sue. EPA's unlawful actions should convince the Court to suspend the approvals for clothianidin and thiamethoxam products until those violations are resolved."

The case also challenges the use of conditional registrations for these pesticides, which expedites commercialization by bypassing meaningful premarket review.  Since 2000, over two-thirds of pesticide products, including clothianidin and thiamethoxam, have been brought to market as conditional registrations. In addition, the plaintiffs challenge the inadequacies of existing pesticide labels meant to ensure environmental and health protections. 

Independent scientists have assessed the effects of clothianidin and thiamethoxam on honey bee colony health and development, examining both sub-lethal exposure effects and acute risks. Scientists have also identified massive data gaps that prevent accurate assessments as to their continued safety, not just for honey bees but for ecosystem integrity on the whole.

Plaintiffs include beekeepers, Steve Ellis of Old Mill Honey Co.; Jim Doan of Doan Family Farms; Tom Theobald of Niwot Honey Farm;  and Bill Rhodes of Bill Rhodes Honey; as well as Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, and the Center for Environmental Health.

(Note: Sierra Club's Genetic Engineering Action Team is involved, because many of these "coated" crops are genetically engineered.

Clip from our policy: "Genetic engineering is a new technology which, unlike traditional breeding methods, allows the transfer of genetic material from one organism into a host organism of an unrelated species, thus bypassing the natural reproductive barriers between species. We call for a moratorium on the planting of all genetically engineered crops and the release of all GEOs into the environment, including those now approved.")

For further info, please contact Laurel Hopwood, Chair, Sierra Club Genetic Engineering Action Team at <>


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