The beekeepers and several environmental groups argue in an emergency petition filed with the EPA that the agency failed to require some legally mandated field testing before the pesticide was approved in 2003. New research, including two studies published last week in the journal Science, raises serious questions about its effect on pollinators of all kinds, they maintain.
The EPA said it has based its continued approval on hundreds of studies. In 2010, the agency said no data show that bee colonies are harmed by exposure. Nevertheless, it agreed to accelerate its routine review of the pesticide – meaning it will be completed in 2018.
Meanwhile, officials with the manufacturer, Bayer CropScience, say they are confident that the research will continue to prove the product is safe for bees when used appropriately.
"I tend to believe that science will win out over emotion," said Jack Boyne, director of communications for Bayer CropScience.
The beekeepers and others say they filed the emergency petition because they fear that the EPA's review process will deliver a verdict too late for the nation's honeybees and the farmers who rely on them.
"Seventy percent of crops – apples, oranges, zucchini, melons, strawberries – they all need pollinators," said Vera Krischik, an associate professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota who studies the pesticides and bees. "It's a huge issue."
Then there are the unknown numbers of bumblebees, wasps, butterflies and other wild pollinating insects that fill the same role across the natural world.
"We are headed in a very dangerous direction," Ellis said.