Citing birds and bees, groups petition EPA to close pesticide loophole

By Carey Gillam

The US should overhaul regulation of a class of insecticides tied to excessive honeybee and bird deaths, according to a citizen petition filed Wednesday with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by a coalition of more than 60 nonprofit groups.

Specifically, the groups are demanding the EPA revoke a nearly 40-year-old waiver that allows pesticide companies to bring their products to market without first providing data that proves the product benefits. The groups say the waiver dates back to a 1984 EPA declaration that stated: “rather than require efficacy data the Agency presumes that benefits exceed risks”.

The petition, which was submitted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the American Bird Conservancy, is aimed at turning back the use of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, which many studies have shown to be exceptionally harmful to hundreds of species.

Environmental advocates say numerous studies show neonics are not necessary and are so detrimental to the environment that they should be banned.

“This stuff is causing all sorts of environmental problems and the environmental tragedy is multiplied because in many cases these insecticides provide farmers no benefit but at the same time they’re doing all this damage,” said Peter Jenkins, a lawyer with PEER.

The European Union has banned the outdoor use of certain types of neonics, and the United Nations has said neonics are so hazardous that they should be “severely” restricted. But in the US, the pesticides remain widely used, typically as coatings on corn and soybean seeds planted by farmers to protect crops from insects and disease. Neonicotinoids are used across on an estimated 150m acres of US farmland annually.

When used as seed coatings, neonics are absorbed through the roots of plants as they grow. Residues of the chemicals can persist for years in the environment and are blamed, along with other pesticides, for a so-called “insect apocalypse.”