The EPA, Pesticides and Beekeepers - An Editorial and call to Arms (2001)
Tom Theobold 

This article has been supplied by Tom Theobold, a commercial beekeeper from Colorado. It is intended as a call to action by beekeepers for a problem with pesticides, the EPA and what has been labeled as blatent pesticide abuse and violation of the law. Bee Culture urges you to visit the EPA site and comment on the proposed rules. But more importantly, by contacting your congressperson, you will call more pressure on EPA to change what is perceived as a serious and inflexible attitude toward pesticides and honey bees.

In an apparently inadvertent irony of timing, the Environmental Protection Agency announced in the Federal Register its intention to seek public comment on a draft Pesticide Registration (PR) notice entitled "Guidance for Pesticide Registrants on Bee Precautionary Labeling". This announcement came on November 22, the day before Thanksgiving. In the war movies, this moment is typically accompanied by the panic cry "INCOMING"! Pesticides hazardous to honey bees have carried a label restriction since the early 1980s. It reads:

"[This product] is HAZARDOUS TO BEES exposed to direct treatment or residues on blooming crops an/or blooming weeds.

Do not apply [this product] or allow it to drift to blooming crops and/or blooming weeds if bees are foraging the areas to be treated."

The label restriction came about as a consequence of massive bee kills from pesticides in the 1970s.

Unfortunately the chemical industry and State Regulators (the agencies typically delegated the authority by EPA for pesticide regulation) found the restriction cumbersome, problematical and inconvenient. While the label restriction was frequently ignored or skirted, it nevertheless gave beekeepers standing before the law when their bees were killed by illegal pesticide use. Even under these conditions of unenthusiastic and even hostile enforcement, commercial beekeepers in many parts of the country had over 30% of their colonies killed or damaged by pesticides. The current PR Notice would propose sweeping changes to not only the wording but the intent of bee protection language.

New pesticides presented for registration which fail to provide residual bee toxicity data automatically will be assumed to have a toxic period of 24 hours. This will encourage applicants to neglect this detail, and beekeepers will spend years enduring bee kills and uncompensated damages as they attempt to establish their case against new pesticides which may have residual toxicity's of 1 to 2 weeks. In other words the toxicity data will be generated at the expense of the beekeeping industry. It dismisses the issue of drift, which is often the major culprit in bee kills, by simply omitting any reference to it. By this logic, polluters in other arenas would be free to release toxic substances into a waterway and be held harmless for any damage done downstream. The only difference between the two cases is that with agricultural pesticides it isn't a waterway but an airstream which is polluted.

Perhaps the worst part of this proposal is its caveat to the chemical industry, which says that an applicator is not responsible for following even the feeble language proposed if they participate in a "formal, state-approved bee protection program". The EPA plans to take no role in the formation, approval or monitoring of the state approved program, despite the clear evidence that it has often been State Departments of Agriculture which are the problem in protecting pollinators. In 1997 AAPCO )the American Association of Pesticide Control Officers), a professional organization to which many state regulatory people belong, formally requested that the EPA make bee protection language ADVISORY. This gives you an idea of the philosophy of many of these states and what protections they might provide given a free hand. The EPA proposed to not only put the foxes back in charge of the chicken coop despite the loss of all these chickens, it proposed to let the foxes make the rules and doesn't even intend to ask what the rules are. Beyond the specific labeling language, the EPA is failing to carry out its basic responsibilities under the law (FIFRA). Ultimately Congress is responsible for the implementation of FIFRA. It assigns this responsibility to EPA, which in turn delegates the authority to another agency, typically a State Department Of Agriculture. It is apparent that the EPA is not only prepared to cave in to the convenience of the chemical industry, but they are willing to sacrifice American beekeeping and violate the law in the bargain. They are either incapable or unwilling to hold their delegees (the states) accountable for administering the law properly, nor are they willing to do so themselves.

Beekeepers are urged to familiarize themselves with this issue and contact their Congresspeople immediately. This matter will effect all beekeepers, large or small. The indiscriminate and uncontrolled use of pesticides around bees, which is likely to result from the current posture of the EPA, will result in enormous and costly losses for almost all beekeepers. The EPA must be called to account by Congress and required to follow the law. The current proposal provides little or no protection to honey bees or any other pollinators, after years of input from the beekeeping industry. More detailed information on the PR can be obtained at . The comment period ends Jan 22, 2001. In addition to anything you may have to say to the EPA, you should inform your Congressperson or nothing will change.

Tom Theobold is a commercial beekeeper, freelance writer and has been a beekeeper's advocate in the pesticide arena for over 25 years.