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Environmental groups urge EPA to act on bee- and bird-killing pesticides

Tree Swallow, one of many North American bird species that require healthy insect populations. Photo by David Mundy

This week, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and American Bird Conservancy (ABC) spearheaded a regulatory filing with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on behalf of 65 nonprofit groups. The filing proposes major reforms in the way the agency regulates systemic insecticides. It focuses in particular on neonicotinoids (neonics), systemic pesticides often applied as agricultural seed coatings that have caused excessive honey bee deathsnative bee declines, and bird mortalities since their introduction more than 20 years ago. 

The groups are pushing the EPA to discard a 1984 regulatory waiver that allows companies to register pesticides without first submitting data on the costs versus the benefits of application. Instead, the Reagan-era EPA waiver simply stated: “Rather than require efficacy data the Agency presumes that benefits exceed risks.”

The petition documents how the EPA’s 1984 presumption and its subsequent failure to require efficacy data has led to extensive environmental harm, including the overproduction of thousands of tons of surplus neonicotinoid-coated seeds that were never planted and have contaminated the environment. 

“We have overwhelming proof that neonicotinoids are devastating to birds such as the Eastern Bluebird and insects. One seed coated with a neonic can kill a songbird, which is to say nothing of the millions of birds impacted by the loss of beneficial invertebrates from neonic pollution,” said Hardy Kern, Director of Government Relations for ABC’s Pesticides and Birds Campaign. “Despite this evidence that neonics are deadly, there is no requirement that chemical manufacturers show their products even work as intended.”

Expert study after expert study, including by the EPA’s economists, show that in most situations the use of neonicotinoid-coated seeds is unnecessary. In some contexts, using the seeds actually reduces crop yields. Yet, neonicotinoids on seeds are the most widespread application of pesticides in the United States, impacting about 100 million acres in a typical year. 


“While EPA should hold all pesticides to a higher standard, for the neonics we have voluminous published evidence on their lack of efficacy, their prophylactic overuse, and the environmental harm they are causing,” said Peter Jenkins, PEER Senior Counsel. “The threat they pose to long-term ecosystem integrity is especially insidious.”

In addition to ABC and PEER, the list of prominent Petitioners includes: Beyond Pesticides, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Endangered Species Coalition, Farmworker Association of Florida, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pollinator Stewardship Council, and the Sierra Club.

The full Petition can be found here


Previous coverage of neonics:

EPA: Neonicotinoids harm vast majority of all endangered species

Grassland bird decline tied to neonicotinoids

Insecticides toxic to seed-eating songbirds

Study shows neonicotinoids threaten survival of wild birds


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American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It contributes the “Eye on Conservation” column in each issue of BirdWatching.

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