Attorney General Becerra Warns Against Expanded Use of Pesticide Found to Harm Bees without Further Study

Friday, February 21, 2020
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed comments urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fully assess the pesticide flonicamid’s risk to pollinators like bees before it allows new uses for the toxic product. Flonicamid manufacturer ISK Biosciences (ISK) has applied to expand the pesticide’s registered uses to include residential use on roses, flowers shrubs, and small trees. These uses could greatly increase pollinators’ exposure to flonicamid. Last month, Attorney General Becerra expressed concern that the EPA had failed to collect data from required follow-up studies after an ecological risk assessment found that flonicamid poses a higher risk to pollinators than previously understood. Flonicamid is concurrently undergoing regulatory review by the EPA. In today’s comment letter, Attorney General Becerra cautions the EPA against approving the new uses for flonicamid without fully understanding and mitigating the pesticide’s environmental impacts. 

“Pollination from bees is critical to California’s agriculture, economy, and environment,” said Attorney General Becerra. “ISK’s own research shows that flonicamid is far more harmful than previously understood, yet the company is asking to expand its use to our backyards. The EPA must do its homework before moving precipitously to approve flonicamid for residential use.”

Under Section 3 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, all pesticides must receive regulatory approval from the EPA before their use. To obtain approval, manufacturers must provide, among other things, data demonstrating that the pesticide is safe. Many pesticides, including flonicamid, have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years for their adverse health and environmental effects. Flonicamid manages crop pests by provoking irreversible feeding cessation, causing insects to die of starvation or dehydration. New studies submitted by ISK during the registration review process showed that flonicamid exposes bees to up to 51 times the amount that would cause them substantial harm, posing significant risks to these pollinators. Despite this, ISK has submitted a new application for Section 3 registration of flonicamid for residential uses.

Flonicamid’s potential adverse effects on pollinators are of critical concern in California, where pollinators play a critical role in the environment and the economy. Pollination by native bees increases the United States’ agricultural output by more than $3 billion each year, and over a third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of the country's fruits and nuts are grown in California. Studies show that crop yields increase substantially in areas with denser native bee populations. Yet studies also show that California’s major agricultural regions, such as the Central Valley, have experienced some of the steepest declines in native bee populations anywhere in the country.

In the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra argues that the EPA must engage in more extensive study of flonicamid’s impacts and demands that ISK submit the required pollinator studies so that EPA can make an informed decision about registration of new uses of flonicamid.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

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