Environmental- and food-safety groups challenged California’s illegal approval of new agricultural uses for neonicotinoid pesticides despite mounting evidence that pesticides are causing an unprecedented bee population decline nationwide, according to a press release the Center for Food Safety issued this month.

The Pesticide Action Network and Center for Food Safety, as well as Beyond Pesticides, represented by Earthjustice, filed the legal challenge in California’s Superior Court for Alameda County, urging California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation to stop approving neonicotinoid pesticides pending its completion of a comprehensive scientific review of the chemicals’ impacts on bee population decline.

“Unless halted, the use of these pesticides threatens not only the very survival of our pollinators, but the fate of whole ecosystems. Scientists have consistently documented widespread environmental contamination from neonicotinoids as they build up in our soil and waterways, especially in California. The DPR has a responsibility to step in and say, ‘No,’” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.

The DPR began its scientific review in early 2009 after it received evidence that neonicotinoids were collectively the root cause of bee population decline. But, five years later, the DPR has yet to take meaningful action to protect bees.

Meanwhile, the DPR has continued to allow increased use of neonicotinoids in California. Today’s lawsuit challenges the DPR’s June 13, 2014, decision to expand the use of two powerful neonicotinoid insecticides – sold under the trademarks Venom Insecticide and Dinotefuran 20SG – despite the agency’s still-pending review of the pesticides’ respective impacts on general pollinator and, specifically, bee population decline. The case underscores larger problems with the DPR’s unwillingness to comply with laws enacted to ensure pesticides do not threaten human health, agriculture, or the environment.

“DPR has been saying for five years that neonicotinoid pesticides may be killing California’s honeybees, and yet, the agency allows more and more of these pesticides to be used each year,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney at Earthjustice representing the groups who filed today’s lawsuit. “It’s past time for DPR to fix its broken evaluation system and protect our bees and our agricultural economy. It obviously will take legal action to accomplish this.”

A growing body of work by independent scientists links a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids (neonics) – both alone and in combination with other factors like disease and malnutrition – to bee population decline. Twenty-nine independent scientists conducted a global review of 800 independent studies and found overwhelming evidence linking pesticides to bee population decline.

Oregon officials also determined the neonic dinotefuran was the cause of two massive bumblebee kills in the state last year. In February 2014, the groups submitted a letter calling on the DPR not to allow greater use of this pesticide.

“State officials have approved pesticides time and time again, despite mounting scientific research and real-world evidence that neonicotinoids pose harm to bees,” said Paul Towers, organizing and media director for the Pesticide Action Network. “With no action in sight, we must take the state to court to protect bees, beekeepers, and our food system.”

Economic Impacts of Bee Population Decline and Action Against Neonics

One in every three bites of food depends on bees for pollination, and the annual value of pollination services worldwide are estimated at more than $125 billion. In the United States, pollination contributes $20 billion to $30 billion in agricultural production annually. And in California alone, almonds crops — entirely dependent on bees for pollination — are valued at more than $3 billion.

In December 2013, the European Union began a two-year moratorium on three of the most widely used neonicotinoids. Yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, working in coordination with Canadian and California state officials, has refused to take any action until at least 2018.

Disappointed with the lack of a clear timeline for evaluating how pesticides could be causing bee population decline, California legislators are currently advancing a bill (AB 1789) that would compel the DPR to finish its review of neonicotinoids within the next two years. The bill will be taken up again when the legislature returns from recess in August.

“Bee and other pollinator populations are declining at unprecedented rates,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “They cannot afford to be subject to a toxic treadmill that fails to consider the full spectrum of cumulative impacts and risks threatening their very existence. The treadmill must be stopped.” bee population decline

Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.

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