A judge in the Northern District of California delivered a crushing blow Monday to the nation’s beekeepers and imperiled honeybees. The judge ruled against the beekeepers and public interest advocates in a lawsuit seeking to protect honeybees and the broader environment from unregulated harms caused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) lax policies for seeds coated with certain insecticides known to cause massive die-offs of honeybees.
The seed-coatings in question are the bee-killing neonicotinoids, or “neonics,” which are strongly linked to the record-high colony mortality suffered by commercial beekeepers, as well as to water pollution and risks to birds and other beneficial species. Corn and soybean seeds, in particular, coated with these chemicals are planted across nearly 150 million acres of the U.S., in what is by far the most extensive type of insecticide application in the nation.
“It is astounding that a judge, EPA or anyone with any common sense would not regulate this type of toxic pesticide use, especially when the seed-coatings are so broadly applied and there is so much at risk,” Andrew Kimbrell, director of Center for Food Safety, said. “Study after study has shown that seeds coated with these chemicals are a major culprit in catastrophic bee-kills. Now more than ever our country’s beekeepers, environment and food system deserve protection from agrichemical interests and it is EPA’s job to deliver it.”
The EPA has exempted the seeds from regulation or mandatory labeling, despite their known toxicity. This exemption was the basis of the lawsuit filed by Center for Food Safety in the public interest and on behalf of several impacted beekeepers.
The judge dismissed the case on an administrative procedure basis, not on the fundamental question of whether the exempted seeds are harming honeybees. In fact, the judge stated in his conclusion: The court is most sympathetic to the plight of our bee population and beekeepers. Perhaps the EPA should have done more to protect them, but such policy decisions are for the agency to make.
“The broader implications of this decision drive the nails in the bee industry’s coffin,” said Jeff Anderson, a California and Minnesota-based commercial beekeeper and honey producer, who was the lead plaintiff in the case. “Of course as a beekeeper I am concerned about my livelihood, but the public at large should also be alarmed. More than one-third of the average person’s diet is generated by pollinators that I help manage.”
The Center for Food Safety is representing the plaintiffs in the case and said the group is considering all options.