America’s bee activists can finally pat themselves on the back for a battle won with the EPA and our country’s agricultural giants- even if it wasn’t quite a game changer. Thanks to a worldwide spotlight on the usage of neonicotinoids, the classification of pesticides increasingly associated with the decline of bees, the EPA has taken action to bring America’s agricultural practices into closer alignment with the European Union. This has included a ban on some neonicotinoids and the continued sale of others with a label whose efficacy is questioned by many in the beekeeping community. The EPA’s official press release explained the new labels and the agency’s perspective on the producers of these controversial pesticides, saying:
The new labels will have a bee advisory box and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions. Today’s announcement affects products containing the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. The EPA will work with pesticide manufacturers to change labels so that they will meet the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) safety standard.
It is this very cooperation with pesticide manufacturers that has so many farmers, beekeepers, and conservationists concerned about whether these efforts are motivated by the best interest of the animals at stake or of the stockholders at stake. In the past the EPA has relied heavily on the industry to practically self regulate through its repeated trust of research presented by the companies themselves on major issues, including neonicotinoids. Even still, in their Pollinator Protection Strategic Plan they repeatedly refer to industry giants as stakeholders in the fight to save bees. They speak of “developing improved [pesticide] label language that is designed with stakeholder feedback which is clear and enforceable.” Would a “stakeholder” corporation really want an effective label that would scare potential customers away from their product?
The key element in the EPA’s Strategic Plan for labeling harmful pesticides is enforcement. Most of the skeptics of this proposed plan look back at history and see that there has been very little effort to enact and enforce tangible regulation of the highly influential multinational companies that sell deadly pesticides. Neither the Strategic Plan nor the official press release on new regulation seem to offer details on enforcement. For those who doubt, and there are many, we have a silver lining. While the larger targets remain evasive, there is increasing local and regional pressure to take care of pollinators.
At the end of August 2013, the farmers at Ben Hill Griffin Inc. were cited and fined for knowingly misusing pesticides in February and March of this year causing the death of millions of bees in the area. Read the whole article here. To the dismay of local beekeepers who lost over $300,000, the guilty party is one of America’s largest citrus producers and was only charged $1,500 of the maximum $10,000 fine. This is deeply saddening, but it still counts as a step in the right direction because Ben Hill Griffin Inc. is the first case where bee deaths were investigated, directly linked to pesticide use, and the laws in place were enforced. If we can continue to hold our own communities, cities, and states accountable, then we can begin to bypass big money, big politics, and get to work saving the bees!