During National Pollinator Week, groups ask stores to stop selling neonics

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, June 17, 2015 - More than 50 beekeeper, environmental and consumer groups are marking National Pollinator Week by sending letters to top garden retailers including True Value and Ace Hardware, urging them to stop selling neonicotinoid pesticides, which the groups link to bee deaths.

“Retailers must do their part to address the bee crisis by joining their competitors in making concrete commitments to eliminate bee-killing pesticides,” Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said in a press release. “Until then, these retailers will continue to be part of the problem.”

Last year, Home Depot agreed to label pesticide products containing neonics and Lowe's said it would eventually eliminate the sale of the chemicals, which are used as lawn care products and as seed treatments for corn and soybeans and foliar sprays in agriculture. The groups also noted that more than 20 states, cities, counties, universities and federal agencies have approved policies that minimize or eliminate the use of neonics. Among them are Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Boulder, Colorado; Warren County, North Carolina; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Together we can feed the Bees"

This week's celebration of National Pollinator Week comes after the recent release of a long-anticipated National Pollinator Health Strategy, which did not require any restrictions on the current uses of neonicotinoid pesticides, but called for measures to increase foraging areas for honey bees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators. The strategy aims to reduce honeybee colony losses during the winter to no more than 15 percent within 10 years.

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Friends of the Earth said the administration's plan "failed to adequately address the impact of pesticides, including neonicotinoid insecticides on bees and other pollinators."

The Obama administration is already taking some actions in restricting pesticide use. EPA, for example, EPA announced in April a moratorium on new or expanded uses of neonicotinoids while it evaluates the risks posed to pollinators. And as part of its commitment to the White House strategy, EPA agreed to speed up its review of the pesticide. The agency is scheduled to review the registration of neonicotinoids in 2018. These period reviews are held to determine if pesticides ontinue to meet safety standards and can result in EPA discontinuing certain uses, placing limits on the pesticide registration or requiring label changes.

Agricultural companies Syngenta, Bayer and Valent U.S.A. have another side of the story to tell, after commissioning a study from AgInfomatics, which focused on the benefits of neonics. Pete Nowak, author of the report, said that if farmers are forced to operate without the use of neonicotinoids, they will have to revert to older, more dangerous chemicals that may not be available as a seed treatment and must be sprayed onto crops.

Instead of restricting the availability of neonicotinoids, the companies say proper stewardship, diverse landscapes and bee pest research would do far more for pollinator health.

During a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing last month, Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., pressured USDA and EPA, which jolintly led the task force that came up with the White House pollinator report, to better coordinate their bee health strategy.

He was referring to the USDA's recent comments on an EPA assessment critical of neonicotinoids and their use on soybeans. The EPA report, released in October, concluded that there “are no clear or consistent economic benefits of neonicotinoid seed treatments in soybeans.”

Robert Johansson, USDA's acting chief economist, sent a letter about the report to EPA earlier this year, noting that “as a whole, USDA disagrees with that assessment.”

Jeff Pettis, the bee research leader at USDA's Agricultural Research Service, said although much of the media focuses on pesticides as the cause of pollinator deaths, “in reality, it's a combination of factors.” He emphasized key factors that harm bees, including poor nutrition, pests like the varroa mite, pathogens, as well as pesticides.

Pettis made his comments during a research seminar Monday on Capitol Hill hosted by the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research.

Although losses of bees over the winter are nearing what some experts say are “acceptable” levels, bee keepers experienced total losses over 40 percent throughout a recent 12-month period due to increased summer losses. USDA's bee loss survey, conducted along with the Bee Informed Partnership and the Apiary Inspectors of America, found losses of managed honey bee colonies were 23.1 percent for the 2014-2015 winter but summer losses exceeded winter numbers for the first time, making annual losses for the year 42.1 percent.

There are about 2.5 million honey bee colonies managed in U.S. where the almond industry alone needs 1.5 million colonies every year for pollination, Pettis explained. The Obama administration estimates honey bee pollination adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops annually.

Beekeepers are managing losses by splitting healthy colonies, which “is the only reason beekeepers are still in business,” Pettis noted.

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