manuka honey, lawsuit

A federal court rejected a lawsuit regarding pesticides in seed coatings, causing a setback for beekeepers around the U.S. Beekeepers and consumer groups issued a lawsuit against the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to regulate insecticide coatings on crop seeds since many experts believe that the pesticides in the coatings are a key element in the decline of bee populations. Like nicotine, these toxins spread to plant tissue as they grow and eventually affect the pollinators that feed from them.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California stated, “It was well within the discretion of the federal agency to exclude chemical coated seeds from pesticide rules that already cover the compounds in their other uses.” Judge William Haskell Alsup explained that the court is “most sympathetic to the plight of our bee population and beekeepers.” He mentioned that the EPA should have done more to protect them, but those kinds of policy decisions are up to the agency.

Several farmers and consumer groups including the Center for Food Safety, American Bird Conservancy, Pesticide Action Network North America, and the Pollinator Stewardship Council had challenged the EPA’s exemption for seeds coated with neonicotinoids, an insecticide used on most crops grown in the Midwestern states. The bees are often exposed to the insecticide when the seeds are planted. Studies have linked the exposure of insecticides to a higher death rate among honeybees. Gail Fuller, a Kansas grain farmer, served as a plaintiff in the case, stating that both the EPA and the states must “address the issue of pesticide seed coating rather than hide their head in the sand.”

A Midwest organizer for the Pesticide Action Network, Lex Horan, said that individual states should fill in the gaps in federal regulation, and that the EPA has “failed to address repeated concerns about the issues of pesticide seed coatings and the threats to bees, beekeepers, and our food system.” The groups alleged that the EPA failed to enforce the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by exempting articles coated with the chemical because it is already regulated for other uses. The court rejected their argument and others that focused on EPA guidelines and agency actions for review.

The court also rejected demands that the EPA release emails and other related documents. The EPA is scheduled to review neonicotinoids over the next several years, and so far it has concluded that one agent, imidacloprid, may potentially “pose risk to hives when the pesticide encounters pollinators.”

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