American Bird Conservancy pushing the EPA on insecticides


Last week—out of concern for bees and other pollinators—EPA announced new labeling requirements for four neonicotinoid pesticides. American Bird Conservancy commends EPA for taking this first step. However, as EPA undoubtedly recognizes, this new labeling requirement will not solve the many problems, including impacts to birds, resulting from the use of neonic insecticides. The labels, along with EPA’s efforts to address dust drift and to advance Best Management Practices, do not get to the heart of the problem: that these insecticides are systemic (infiltrating the entire plant, including the pollen and the nectar) and persistent (lasting in the environment for months and even years).

We encourage EPA to go beyond this first step to address the toxic effects of neonics. Below is an editorial outlining steps American Bird Conservancy urges EPA to take, in order to protect birds and other wildlife from pesticides.

Note to EPA: Protect the Birds and the Bees

Editorial by Cynthia Palmer, Pesticides Program Manager, American Bird Conservancy

The U.S. EPA has a checkered record when it comes to evaluating pesticides. A case in point is the agency’s slow response in regulating the neonicotinoid insecticides, or “neonics,” despite extensive scientific evidence of the threat to bees, birds, and other wildlife. A 100-page report by the American Bird Conservancy, The Impact of the Nation’s Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds, examined the risks to birds and aquatic systems, including extensive comparisons with the older pesticides that the neonics have replaced.  The results reinforce the need for immediate intervention.

Neonics are easily the world’s most widely used pesticides, to the point where it is difficult to find a pest-control product that does not contain at least one of these chemicals. The EPA helped make the neonics best-sellers by approving no less than 595 of these products since the 1990s—including nearly 100 different seed treatments—even though the agency’s own toxicologists were raising red flags about potential environmental threats. In internal reviews conducted by the EPA, agency scientists voiced concerns about how long it took for neonics to break down, how readily they got into water supplies, and how harmful they could be to pollinators and other wildlife.

We believe those warnings would have been even more dire if the scientists who issued them had gone beyond the agency’s antiquated risk assessment protocols. But they did not. Instead, EPA scientists measured the toxicity of neonics to aquatic invertebrates by running tests on a species of freshwater flea that happens to be uniquely insensitive to these chemicals. They evaluated the potential threats to birds by running tests on Mallards and Northern Bobwhites, even though other birds can be ten times more sensitive to pesticides like these.

ABC’s review of 200 studies turned up ample evidence that the threats posed by these chemicals are more than theoretical. A single seed treated with the neonic imidacloprid can kill a bird the size of a Blue Jay. One-tenth of a seed per day during egg-laying season can impair reproduction. These pesticides are having dire effects on terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates as well.

Astonishingly EPA does not require that registrants of acutely toxic pesticides develop the tools necessary to diagnose poisoned birds and other wildlife. When you bring a dead bird to a state agency, there is no easy way to identify neonicotinoid poisoning as the smoking gun. Moreover, EPA does not require registrants to report any bird fatalities involving fewer than 200 of a “flocking species,” 50 of a songbird species, or five raptors. These 1997 revisions to federal pesticide laws essentially place the agency in a state of enforced ignorance. The feeble reporting requirements, combined with the failure to require development of basic biomarkers, help keep the government in the dark on a range of pesticide effects on wildlife.

In April 2013, the European Union announced a two-year ban on three neonics, effective December 1, in light of the ongoing threat to food production systems. ABC is calling on the EPA to do likewise—to suspend all uses of neonics pending independent review of their effects on birds, terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife.

Cynthia Palmer, cpalmer@abcbirds.org, directs ABC’s efforts to address major toxic impacts and pollution threats to birds, ranging from rat poison effects on raptors to chemical disruptions of migratory birds’ navigation systems. She coordinates the National Pesticide Reform Coalition and participates on the EPA Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee. Cynthia received her BA, Juris Doctor, and Master of Public Health degrees from Harvard, concentrating in environmental and occupational health sciences and law. The Impact of the Nation’s Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds is available at http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/toxins/Neonic_FINAL.pdf

Take Action: It’s Time for Congress to Get Serious about Neonicotinoid Pesticides!

Please write your U.S. Representative TODAY and ask her or him to support the Save America’s Pollinators Act of 2013. This bill will direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend registration for neonicotinoid insecticides, which are causing serious harm to birds, bees, and aquatic life.

The bill comes on the heels of American Bird Conservancy’s groundbreaking report documenting that songbirds can die from consuming a single neonicotinoid-coated seed. This report, along with the avalanche of recent research on neonicotinoids’ harms to pollinators, makes it clear that immediate action is needed. This bill was drafted by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

Please Write Your Representative Now and Urge Support and Co-sponsorship of This Bill.  Click on: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5400/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14827

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