EPA restores broad use of pesticide opposed by beekeepers
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency will allow farmers to resume broad use of a pesticide over objections from beekeepers, citing private chemical industry studies that the agency says show the product does only lower-level harm to bees and wildlife.
Friday’s EPA announcement — coming after the agriculture industry accused the agency of unduly favoring honeybees — makes sulfoxaflor the latest bug- and weed-killer allowed by the Trump administration despite lawsuits alleging environmental or human harm. The pesticide is made by Corteva Agriscience, a spinoff created last month out of the DowDuPont merger and restructuring.
Honeybees pollinate billions of dollars of food crops annually in the United States, but agriculture and other land uses that cut into their supply of pollen, as well as pesticides, parasites and other threats, have them on a sharp decline.
Emails and other records obtained from the EPA through Freedom of Information Act litigation by the Sierra Club, and provided to The Associated Press, show sorghum growers in particular had pressed senior officials at the agency for a return to broad use of sulfoxaflor.
Sorghum growers regard honeybees as just another “non-native livestock” in the United States, lobbyist Joe Bischoff said in one 2017 email to agency officials, and by cutting threats to the bees, “EPA has chosen that form of agriculture over all others.”
Michele Colopy, program director of the Pollinator Stewardship Council, said the EPA limits aren’t enough to protect bees and other beneficial bugs whose numbers are declining.
“We understand farmers want to have every tool in their toolbox” when it comes to curbing insects that damage crops. “But the … pesticides are just decimating beneficial insects,” Colopy said.
An environmental group charged the EPA with sidestepping the usual public review in reapproving broader use of the pesticide.
“The Trump EPA’s reckless approval… without any public process is a terrible blow to imperiled pollinators,” said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program.