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Court blocks bug spray suspected of killing bees

A federal appeals court in San Francisco Thursday overturned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of an insecticide that beekeepers said would be toxic to the nation’s already stressed population of honey bees.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the EPA’s approval of the insecticide sulfoxaflor in 2013 “was based on flawed and limited data” and was “not supported by substantial evidence.” The decision bans the use of the chemical in the United States until the EPA conducts further studies and makes a new determination as to whether it is safe to use.

Sulfoxaflor is an insect neurotoxin made by Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences LLC, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co. It is used on crops including citrus, cotton, fruit and nut trees, vegetables and strawberries.

Insects, including bees, can be killed either by coming in contact with the chemical spray on a plant or by ingesting parts of the plant, such as nectar and pollen, that have absorbed the chemical.

The EPA approval was challenged in a lawsuit filed in the 9th Circuit in December 2013 by four beekeeping associations and three individual beekeepers.

The groups were the Pollinator Stewardship Council, National Honeybee Advisory Board, American Honey Producers Association and American Beekeeping Federation. They were represented by the San Francisco-based Earthjustice environmental law firm.

Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder wrote in the ruling:

“Bees are essential to pollinate important crops and in recent years have been dying at alarming rates.”

The court noted the EPA initially classified sulfoxaflor as “highly toxic” to bees. It said further studies submitted by Dow were flawed or limited and did not provide sufficient data to determine the risks to bees.

The court said:

“Without sufficient data, the EPA has no real idea whether sulfoxaflor will cause unreasonable adverse effects on bees.”

Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie said, “Our country is facing widespread bee colony collapse, and scientists are pointing to pesticides like sulfoxaflor as the cause.

Loarie said in a statement:

“The court’s decision to overturn approval of this bee-killing pesticide is incredible news for bees, beekeepers and all of us who enjoy the healthy fruits, nuts, and vegetables that rely on bees for pollination.”

Dow AgroSciences, which was allowed to join the case on the side of the EPA, said in a statement that it:

“… respectfully disagrees with the 9th Circuit’s conclusion. … Dow AgroSciences will work with EPA to implement the order and to promptly complete additional regulatory work to support the registration of the products. Dow AgroSciences is also considering its available options to challenge the court’s decision.”

An EPA spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

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