SAN FRANCISCO, CA. — On Dec. 21, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider its decision to expand the use of sulfoxaflor, a pesticide infamous for nationwide honeybee die-offs, and for killing other pollinators, too, like the seriously imperiled monarch butterfly.
The ruling comes some three years after Pollinator Stewardship Council, American Beekeeping Federation, and commercial beekeeper Jeffrey Anderson, represented by Earthjustice, sued EPA for removing key safeguards as they allowed the bee-killing pesticide back on the market in 2019.
The Court concluded EPA violated federal law by approving additional uses for sulfoxaflor without any public notice and by failing to evaluate impacts on imperiled species. The court ordered EPA to invite public comment and prepare a new decision on sulfoxaflor within 180 days.
“Scientists have long said systemic insecticides like sulfoxaflor are behind the unprecedented colony collapse of the last few years,” said Greg Loarie, Earthjustice attorney, “It makes no sense to allow a bee-killing insecticide on a bee-attractive crop, when we know we need bees for agriculture. EPA must protect pollinators from sulfoxaflor, and all other systemic insecticides that end up in pollen and nectar.”
Pollinators’ ecological service in the country is valued at $200 billion a year, according to government data, and more than 80% of plants worldwide need pollinators to survive. From April 2020 to April 2021, U.S. beekeepers lost 45.5% of their colonies. This is the second-highest loss on record.
Last December, a California judge ruled that sulfoxaflor’s use approval violated state environmental law. Earthjustice and its clients are fighting to make sure pollinators are protected from sulfoxaflor and similar systemic insecticides in California, where most insect-pollinated crops are grown.
“Studies show that the widespread adoption of systemic insecticides has made our landscapes 48 times more deadly for pollinators like honeybees. Pollinators are critical for the country's food supply. EPA must immediately stop pesticides like sulfoxaflor that kill pollinators,” said Steve Ellis, president of the Pollinator Stewardship Council.
EPA first approved sulfoxaflor in 2013, but thanks to an Earthjustice lawsuit filed on behalf of the Pollinator Stewardship Council and the American Beekeeper Federation, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision. The Court ruled EPA failed to evaluate the impacts of sulfoxaflor on honeybee colonies.
In 2016, EPA re-approved sulfoxaflor subject to significant restrictions to reduce the risk to honeybees and other pollinators. But in 2019, and without any public notice, EPA removed these restrictions and approved new uses for the bee-killing insecticide.
Sulfoxaflor is produced by Corteva, formerly Dow AgroSciences.
Earthjustice represented beekeeper Jeff Anderson, the Pollinator Stewardship Council, and the American Beekeeper Federation.