In a blow to the adoption of urgently needed protections for the honey bee and other pollinators, the California State Senate voted 35-1 to delay action on harmful neonicotinoid, or “neonic,” pesticides until 2020.

While advocates want mandates for regulatory action to ensure honey bee protection, the timeline in the bill ignores the ongoing crisis faced by the honey bee and beekeepers, as well as farmers dependent on honey bee pollination.

Assembly Bill 1789 provides the California Department of Pesticide Regulation with another four years to reevaluate neonicotinoid pesticides and an additional two years to implement any measures that would be necessary to protect pollinators.

Given that Cal DPR began its reevaluation of neonics in 2009 and existing law would have required a complete reevaluation within two years, the legislature’s new 2020 timeline has been met with strong criticism from both beekeepers and environmental groups.

The passage of AB 1789 sets Cal DPR on a track similar to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s timeline for neonic review. This timeline is widely seen as an unacceptable response to the pollinator crisis, given unsustainable declines of greater than 30 percent of managed honey bee colonies each year, and widespread adverse impacts on other wild pollinators.

“The Department of Pesticide Regulation has been dithering since 2009 while our honey bees continue to die in droves, and this bill essentially tells the department to sit on its hands for another six years,” said Greg Loarie, attorney at Earthjustice, an environmental law firm. “AB 1789 will amount to a death sentence for honey bees.”

California Activists Unite in Fight for Honey Bee Safety

Last December, a broad coalition of more than 60 organizations, including Beyond Pesticides, launched a national media campaign to tell the EPA, “Bees can’t wait 5 more years, and neither can we.”

A large and expanding collection of scientific literature links pollinator declines to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of systemic insecticides that make their way into the pollen, nectar, and dew droplets on which pollinators forage. Scientists across the world are sounding the alarm on neonicotinoids and other systemic insecticides and demanding action from legislators and regulatory bodies.

According to a Worldwide Integrated Assessment undertaken by the Global Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, persistent exposure to neonics and their breakdown products is harmful to pollinators and wildlife even at very low levels.

Researchers explain, “The existing literature clearly shows that present-day levels of pollution with neonicotinoids and Fipronil caused by authorized uses frequently exceed lowest observed adverse effect concentrations for a wide range of non-target species, and are thus likely to have wide-ranging, negative biological and ecological impacts.”

In a recent study published in the Bulletin of Insectology by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health, pesticides — not mites or pathogens, as has been claimed by the chemical industry — were found to be the major cause of honey bee colony collapse. Even before the release of these two documents, an analysis of the science conducted by Beyond Pesticides had concluded that our pollinator crisis is “No Longer a Big Mystery.”

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To the dismay of pollinator supporters, as the science continues to link the role of neonicotinoids in bee declines Cal DPR has continued to allow expanded uses of neonics in the state.

(Editor’s Note: These poisons have now been found in rivers throughout the Midwestern United States. Who’s to say they haven’t polluted ground water in California as well?)

Beyond Pesticides, Pesticide Action Network, and the Center for Food Safety, represented by Earthjustice, recently filed a legal challenge in the California Superior Court for the county of Alameda. The petition urges Cal DPR to stop approving neonics pending the completion of a comprehensive scientific review of the impact of neonics on the honey bee.

One in every three bites of food depends on the honey bee for pollination, and the annual value of pollination services worldwide is estimated at over $125 billion. In the United States, pollination contributes $20 billion to $30 billion in agricultural production annually. And, in California alone, the state’s total almond crop, which is entirely dependent on the honey bee for pollination, is valued at over $3 billion per year.

Last year, serious questions surrounded whether there would be enough honey bees available to pollinate the state’s almond crops. Without strong, meaningful protections from government officials in California for the honey bee and other wild pollinators, these problems are not likely to subside.

At the end of Pollinator Week 2014, President Obama directed executive agencies to develop a plan to address pollinator declines within 180 days. It is imperative that those concerned about pollinator health put pressure on the president to protect pollinators from harmful pesticides so real, long-lasting protections come from this announcement. After all, given the success of organic production systems, these chemicals simply are not necessary for growing food or successfully managing pests.

To become more involved in pollinator protection, visit the BEE Protective campaign page. BEE Protective is a joint initiative launched by Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Food Safety, aimed at protecting the honey bee and other pollinators from pesticides and contaminated landscapes.

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Beyond Pesticides, founded in 1981, works with allies to protect public health and the environment by identifying the hazards of chemical-intensive land-, building-, and community-management practices and to promote healthy, sustainable, organic systems.

 

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