There’s more to the bee pollinator issue than many may think

The headline on the EPA release was news to farmers who have been producing significantly higher soybean yields in the Mid-South.

“EPA finds neonicotinoid seed treatments of little or no benefit to U.S. soybean production,” the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention said in the release. “There is no increase in soybean yield using most neonicotinoid seed treatments compared to no pest control at all.”

The study, which comes as EPA is under pressure from environmental activist groups to withdraw the registrations of neonicotinoid insecticides because they claim they are a threat to bees, caused quite a bit of consternation in the farm chemical industry.

“On the 15th of October, we got an October surprise from EPA when they issued this very cursory report saying they had done a benefits analysis and found there are little to no benefits for the use of seed treatments of neonicotinoids on soybeans,” said Jay Vroom, CEO of CropLife America, the organization representing  crop protection chemical manufacturers.

“That is a great reminder to me that part of the truth is way more harmful and damaging than an outright lie, and, unfortunately, our friends at EPA know that a lot better than we do.”

Vroom, speaking at the Southern Crop Production Association annual meeting in New Orleans, said the industry was determined not to let the claims go unchallenged and began responding almost immediately after the EPA press release hit the streets.

“Fortunately, the neonicotinoid registrants already have massive benefits analysis underway. That was being used that Wednesday afternoon just hours after we met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and the team from the Office of Pesticides, and we voiced our frustrations and dismay that they kept this analysis of benefits a state secret and blindsided us with it.”

“I think we’re on top of this now, and in my subsequent conversations with EPA leadership, I’m beginning to hear that they may be thinking about doing a little bit more course correction on some of the follow-on label change actions that they were contemplating at EPA,” Vroom said.

Most Americans have only a cursory knowledge of honeybees, he noted. Some may have heard of the threat the Varroa mite poses to bees, but they have no idea what the mite is or what it does to pollinators.

Vroom displayed a photo taken at the Bayer CropScience Bee Center in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Center personnel use a visual that is about the size of a sofa pillow to show visitors the impact one Varroa mite can have on a honey bee.

The primary weapon for combatting the Varroa mite is a miticide or a pesticide that will eliminate the pest without endangering the honeybee.

“It’s a great reminder in a visual way to those who have concerns about the health of pollinators that there are a lot of factors associated with pollinator health that go well beyond inadvertent exposure to pesticides that may diminish honey bee health,” he noted.

“And, in fact, the answer to the mite problem is miticides, which are pesticides. That’s an eye opener for a lot of folks in the public that don’t know anything about these issues.”

The bee health issue has now gone all the way to the top, he said, with President Obama creating a federal government pollinator task force last June. He made USDA and EPA the co-chairs of the task force.”

“We were pleased with that and commended the president for that move,” said Vroom. “But we’ve been disappointed that USDA has not kept pace with the leadership from EPA around driving the bus on the pollinator task force for the president."        `

Since the EPA's release, the neonicotinoid registrants - Bayer CropScience, Syngenta and Valent USA Corp. - have issued a number of reports about the efficacy and benefits of the compounds in seed treatments on a number of crops, including soybeans. To see those reports, visit www.GrowingMatters.org.

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