(TMU) — On June 17, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new “emergency” approvals allowing the spraying of an insecticide which has previously been linked to health problems in bee populations. The approval allows 11 states to begin spraying cotton and sorghum with sulfoxaflor, the controversial insecticide—a specific type of pesticide that targets and kills insects—which at least one court attempted to ban.
The order from the Trump administration is the latest “emergency” approval in four consecutive years, continuing a trend that started with the Obama administration. A similar emergency approval was granted by the EPA in February 2019.
“The only emergency here is the Trump EPA’s reckless approval of this dangerous bee-killing pesticide,” said Lori Ann Burd, Environmental Health Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s sickening that even amid the current insect apocalypse, the EPA’s priority is protecting pesticide industry profits.”
In September 2015, a federal appeals court issued a ruling that blocked the use of sulfoxaflor because it was believed to be causing harm to honey bees. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. EPA insufficiently tested the pesticide sulfoxaflor before approving its use in 2013. Sulfoxaflor is a type of insecticide known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, which are used on citrus and cotton crops. Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder stated the EPA should have done further research once initial studies showed sulfoxaflor was highly toxic to honey bees. Schroeder wrote:
“In this case, given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it.”
The harm caused by neonics like sulfoxalor has been well documented. A July 2016 study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that neonicotinoids do not kill drone honey bees, but instead drastically reduce the amount of live sperm produced by the male population. Researchers at Switzerland’s University of Bern found that the bees who ate pollen treated with neonicotinoids produced 39 percent less live sperm than the bees who did not eat the treated pollen.
The latest “emergency” approval by the EPA comes on the heels of a newly published study detailing how the United States leads the world in use of pesticides which have been banned by other nations. The Center for Biological Diversity published a paper highlighting that U.S. farmers use 72 pesticides that are banned in the European Union, 17 agricultural substances that are outlawed in China and 11 pesticides that are no longer allowed in Brazil.
“Of the 85 pesticides approved in the USA and banned in at least one of the other nations, most are herbicides,” study author Nathan Donley told Courthouse News. “The USA is generally regarded as being highly regulated and having protective pesticide safeguards in place. This study contradicts that narrative.”
The study, published in scientific journal Environmental Health, examined data from 2016 to determine that U.S. farmers applied 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides. The use of pesticides by the U.S. included 322 million pounds of chemicals no longer allowed in the EU, 40 million pounds of pesticides banned in China and 26 million pounds banned in Brazil. The study found that total bans are the “most effective way to prevent intentional or accidental exposure.”
As the Mind Unleashed previously reported, the abundant use of pesticides has become such an issue that a recent analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data found that 70% of fresh fruits and vegetables in the United States carry pesticide residue, even after being washed. The analysis by the Environmental Working Group found that crops like spinach and strawberries are among the most contaminated.
Unfortunately, the recent approvals of dangerous pesticides like sulfoxalor will only make the situation worse. It has never been more important to support or join local community gardens, urban farms, and support farmers who do not use these toxic chemicals.