East Hawaii News

EPA Issues Pesticide Labeling Requirements to Protect Honeybees

August 15, 2013, 5:44 PM HST
* Updated August 16, 4:17 PM
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The EPA today announced new labeling requirements for a subgroup of the pesticides known as “neonicotinoids” in an effort to protect bee populations nationwide, including those here in Hawai`i.

Neonicotinoids have been increasingly under fire from environmental groups, as recent peer-reviewed studies have linked their use to diminished bee populations.

Honeybees, which were brought to Hawai`i in the mid-1800s, now form a critical backbone of the local agricultural industry, pollinating a broad variety of crops including melons, mangoes, lychee, avocados, and macadamia nuts.

The bees also play a key role in the pollination of coffee blossoms.

Lee Patterson, co-owner of Hula Daddy Kona Coffee, described the bee-coffee connection in an interview with Big Island Now.

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Patterson, who owns and operates his farm with wife Karyn, explained that the 19 bee hives scattered throughout his company’s acreage provide “a 10% boost in production” over what the farm would otherwise achieve.

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“Coffee blooms after the first big rains of February or March, and then the entire farm lights up with blossoms” described Patterson, adding “once that happens, millions of bees come through and start pollinating like crazy.”

Patterson explained that the cycle repeats itself several times per year, helping to give his pesticide-free farm an important boost in revenue.

A Hawai`i honeybee attempts to free itself from a spider's web. Image courtesy BHG photography.

A Hawai`i honeybee attempts to free itself from a spider’s web. Image courtesy BHG photography.

Although the new EPA-labeling rules aren’t likely to affect farms like Hula Daddy, it’s also unclear how effective the new labeling requirements will be when it comes to actually protecting bee populations from the mis-use of neonicotinoid products by non-organic operators.

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The new labels will offer a “bee advisory box” and information on spraying precautions, but whether the EPA will be able to effectively enforce the precautions remains in question.

Meanwhile, two oceans away from Hawai`i, the European Union has taken a much firmer stance against the pesticides, despite objections from the companies involved in their production.

In April of this year, the EU approved a two year continent-wide ban on the use of some neonicotinoid products.

Although the new US standards appear directed only at labeling, the Environmental Protection Agency is actually in the process of reviewing the safety of several neonicotinoid products, with review findings due sometime during or after 2016. Products under review include thiamethoxam, dinotefuran, and clothiandinone, all of which are affected by the EPA’s revised labeling requirements.

However, some environmentalists want quicker and more decisive action by the EPA. Paul Towers, spokesperson for the Pesticide Action Network, sent the following statement to Big Island Now:

“While it’s good to see movement from the EPA, the new labels do little to address the problem of bee declines. EPA’s labels fail to acknowledge the unique properties of systemic, persistent neonicotinoid pesticides and are practically unenforceable… EPA should instead act on the growing body of scientific evidence and further restrict the use of neonicotinoids, especially as seed treatments.”

Two companies, Bayer and Syngenta, account for the majority of neonicotinoid production.

GMO protestors march along Kamehameha Avenue in Hilo. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

GMO protestors march along Kamehameha Avenue in Hilo. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Syngenta, along with the Monsanto Corporation, has recently been caught up in the GMO labeling controversy sweeping the islands. Among other activities, Syngenta develops seed products in Hawai`i, leasing some 3,000 acres and employing around 300 people statewide.

According to state records, Syngenta spent approximately $25,000 on lobbying activities in Hawai`i between March 1 and April 30, 2013. During that same period, anti-GMO activists were busy canvassing island streets to protest activities by companies like Syngenta and Monsanto.

A controversial bill introduced in the Hawai`i County Council by Councilwoman Margaret that would have would have banned new genetically modified crops on the Big Island was later killed in committee on Aug. 6.

Opponents of the bill, including area farmers and University of Hawai`i researchers, claimed it would harm local agriculture and unfairly single out successful GMO crops like Hawaiian-grown papayas, many of which use a pest-resistant seed strain.

Wille is reportedly working on a new version of the legislation, to be introduced at a later time.

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