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  • Writer's picturePollinator Stewardship Council

Analysis from the EPA Shows Neonics Cause Adverse Impact to 79% of Endangered Species

It has been ten years since a group of four beekeepers, including PSC President Steve Ellis, joined forces with conservation groups in a civil action suit against the EPA, challenging their decision to allow the ongoing use of neonicotinoid pesticides (clothianidin and thiamethoxam). Because this decision was made without affording notice in the Federal Register and the opportunity for public comment, it was in violation of both the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Administrative Procedure Act.  The case was settled in 2018 when the Federal Court ruled that the EPA had systematically violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the plaintiffs understood that the court-mandated agreement would require the EPA to implement immediate fundamental changes to their neonicotinoid pesticide registration policies.         

In June of 2022, the EPA issued the ESA Work Plan Update which found that these chemicals would cause adverse impact to 60-75% of endangered species in the United States.  The Pollinator Stewardship Council was highly concerned about the level of pollinator protection outlined in the ESA Work Plan Update. Although the EPA did determine that the systemic insecticides do pose a significant risk to endangered species and pollinators, the Work Plan failed to implement actual change such as the appropriate next step of immediate cancellation of these systemic insecticides. PSC submitted substantive comments outlining a number of concerns and called for immediate action to remove neonicotinoid pesticides from the market.            

On May 5th, 2023 the EPA released a new analysis identifying endangered and threatened species that face the greatest risks from the continued use of three pesticides: clothianidinimidacloprid, and thiamethoxam. These neonicotinoid chemicals are used in a wide range of settings including crops, turf, ornamental, and other residential and commercial uses for both indoor and outdoor applications.  According to the National Pesticide Information Center, currently there are over 400 products for sale in the United States that contain imidacloprid, 112 containing Thiamethoxam, and 63 containing Clothianidin, and these pesticides are found in everything—in agriculture as a seed coating for most conventional corn and soy crops, and in private homes as a common flea treatment for pets.    

The biological evaluations in the new report indicate that:

  • Clothianidin is likely to adversely affect 67% of listed endangered species or a total of 1,225 species, and jeopardize 9% of species.

  • Thiamethoxam is likely to adversely affect 77% of listed endangered species, or a total of 1,396 species.    

  • Imidacloprid is likely to adversely affect 79% of listed endangered species or a total of 1,445 species.

Further, the report identifies species facing extinction due to use of these chemicals. Those species include the Rusty patched bumble bee, Miami Blue Butterfly, Attwater’s prairie chicken, American burying beetle, and Pitkin Marsh lily.  Introduced in the 1990s, neonicotinoids are a class of systemic chemicals which are absorbed into the tissue of the entire plant, contaminating pollen, nectar, and fruit even when the only exposure was through a seed coating and not aerial spray.  These pesticides are extremely concentrated and University of Sussex professor and insect expert Dave Goulson estimates that a single teaspoon of thiamethoxam is toxic enough to kill 1.25 billion bees (over 20,000 hives).           

Neonics have long been banned in other parts of the world.  In 2013, the European Union placed a moratorium on clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam forbidding use in flowering crops and extended the ban in 2018 to all field crops.  Since the formation of the Pollinator Stewardship Council in 2013, we have focused on advocacy efforts to remove neonicotinoids from the market to protect pollinators and ensure the future of our food system.  PSC President and original plaintiff in the EPA case Steve Ellis states “From the very first use of neonicotinoids in North America, in eastern Canada, beekeepers have been reporting poisoning of their hives associated with neonicotinoid use on crops. Instead of listening to the beekeepers and scientists like they did in France, North American regulators denied the problem and have continued to approve new uses, one after the other. Systemic poisons like neonicotinoids make plants into poison dispensers. Beekeeping losses keep getting higher, yet EPA refuses to take action.  What will it take to get the EPA to admit their mistake?  The massively destructive poisoning of the landscape must be ended now!”

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