By Larissa Walker, The Center For Food Safety

Bernie the Bee visited Washington this morning to deliver a petition with more than half a million signatures of Americans demanding the Environmental Protection Agency do something to protect bees and other pollinator species.

Bernie and his supporters came with a loud and clear message: The EPA needs to get back to its most basic mission, protecting the environment. Over the course of the past few decades, the EPA has been veering further and further off course; instead of “contribut(ing) to making our communities and ecosystems diverse, sustainable and economically productive,” they appear more focused on protecting the interests of chemical-industry giants like Monsanto, Bayer, Dow Chemical and Syngenta, to name a few.

Today, we told the EPA we’ve all had enough!

Pollinators like honey bees are excellent gauges for the health and well-being of our environment. They are an indicator species; when they are suffering, it is symptomatic of larger environmental problems. In this case, pollinators are threatened by the onslaught of toxic systemic chemicals. One of the worst kinds of pesticides for pollinators is a class of insecticides known as “neonicotinoids” (“neonics” for short).

Over the past decade, neonics have been increasingly linked to severe bee losses around the world. They are extremely toxic to pollinators, such as honey bees, and have been found to harm a range of species, from birds to aquatic invertebrates and other beneficial insects. Neonics take a long time to break down and therefore build up in the soil and run off into groundwater and surface waters, compounding the environmental impacts over the long-term.

In the United States, unfortunately, our government agency charged with protecting us from precisely these types of harms is failing to see the smoke signals from pollinators in distress. Study after study shows the toxic effect of neonics, but the EPA has turned a blind eye and continues to approve even more uses of systemic chemicals. Recent estimates suggest there are more than 500 different neonic products on the market. These chemicals are used on the majority of the U.S.’s corn, canola, cotton and sugar-beet crops; about half of all soybeans; the majority of fruit and vegetable crops; as well as cereal grains, rice, nuts and wine grapes.

The EPA has lost its direction. Thankfully, environmentalists, beekeepers and concerned citizens are working together to steer them back on course. In that spirit, we joined Bernie and delivered more than half a million signatures to the EPA’s Washington headquarters this morning, demanding the agency take action to save our bees.

The public is calling on the EPA to get back on the right track; we’re asking them to act now, suspend these toxic chemicals, and protect pollinators and our environment. Lately, the agency has been dragging its feet, saying it won’t even complete its review of neonics for at least another four years! It would be a miracle if there were any healthy bees left by then.

This isn’t the first time we’ve knocked on the EPA’s door and asked them to step up and protect pollinators. In fact, this week marks the anniversary of the lawsuit that the Center for Food Safety filed against the EPA on behalf beekeepers, food and environmental groups over the continued allowance of two of the most potent neonics. It also marks the two-year anniversary of the legal petition filed against the agency on this same pressing issue.

Fortunately, where action from our federal agencies has been lacking, Congress and individual states have stepped up and taken independent action to protect pollinators. In July 2013, following the largest bumblebee kill in history, which occurred after neonics were applied to blooming trees, Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would suspend the use of the four most toxic neonics. There are also several states including California and Minnesota that have introduced legislation to suspend all neonics use. And this month, Eugene, Ore., became the first city in the country to take action and ban the use of neonicotinoids on city property.

The plight of pollinators is becoming a top priority across the country. It’s past time for the EPA to show us (and Bernie!) it is capable of protecting the environment. Our environmental agency must step up and save pollinators from the lethal effects of pesticides.

Larissa Walker is the policy and campaign coordinator at the Center for Food Safety (CFS) in Washington, DC where she works on a variety of pollinator and pesticide campaigns and also policy issues involving genetically engineered foods. She has also served several nonprofit organizations as an educator, project coordinator and researcher. Larissa received her master’s degree in Environmental Policy Design from Lehigh University.

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