Beekeepers ask courts to ban controversial pesticides

U.S. environmental regulators are failing to protect honeybees and should immediately suspend use of some toxic insecticides tied to the widespread deaths of bees, charges a new lawsuit.

“It is a catastrophe in progress,” said migratory beekeeper Steve Ellis, who maintains 2,000 hives for pollinating crops from Minnesota to California.

“We have an ongoing problem that is worsening.”

Bees are vital for pollinating a host of crops, but over the last several years both their number and vitality have markedly declined. Many studies have linked the prevalence of some new insecticides with the loss of the bees.

Beekeepers and environmental groups unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year to restrict the insecticides, and now four professional beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups want the courts to order the EPA to take action. They filed their lawsuit in California demanding the regulatory agency suspend the use of pesticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam, part of a class of systemic insecticides known as neonicotinoids.

The pesticides first came into heavy use in the mid-2000s, at the same time beekeepers started observing widespread cases of colony losses. They are absorbed by plants and transported throughout a plant’s vascular tissue, making the plant potentially toxic to insects, the groups said.

Syngenta and Bayer, leading global producers of the pesticides, say the harmful effects on bees are unproven. But in Europe, the European Commission recently proposed banning neonicotinoids on many crops, saying they pose an acute risk to honeybee health.

In the U.S., neonicotinoids are routinely used on more than 100 million acres of corn, wheat, soy and cotton and are in some home gardening products.

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