Neonicotinoids may affect bees' ability to navigate. Photo: John Walker / CorbisBy Michael Marshall
22 March 2013

The lawyers will be as busy as bees. The long-running row over insecticides linked to declines in bee numbers is going to court. Beekeepers and activists are suing the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), saying it should have banned neonicotinoid insecticides.

Neonicotinoids are relatively new chemicals but have already become widely used in recent years because they are taken up by all parts of a plant, giving comprehensive protection against crop pests. However, they may be partly responsible for the ongoing decline of pollinating insects like bumblebees. When ingested, they disrupt key behaviours like navigation, causing population declines. This week, the American Bird Conservancy, a non-profit group based in The Plains, Virginia, released a report claiming neonicotinoids also harm birds.

On 21 March, four beekeepers and five environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the EPA "for its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides". The group had previously petitioned the EPA for an emergency ban on one neonicotinoid.

The EPA would not comment on the case, but a spokesperson said it was accelerating its review of the neonicotinoids "because of uncertainties about these pesticides and their potential effects on bees".

A European Commission proposal to restrict the use of neonicotinoids in Europe recently failed to secure enough votes. The proposal would have forbidden the use of neonicotinoids on crops that attract bees, and at times of year when the chemicals were likely to be transported in dust. The proposal was triggered by a report issued in January by the European Food Standards Agency, which said it was not acceptable to use neonicotinoids on crops that attract bees.

"I was fully in support of the ban," says David Goulson, an ecologist at the University of Stirling, UK. "The worst impacts on bees would have been removed." He says similar restrictions could work well in the US. "The risks are the same, and the bees are essentially the same." [more]

Bees to have their day in court over insecticide use

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