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Why doesn't EPA ban the neonicotinoid pesticides?

Thank you for asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about potential impacts of pesticides on bees. I appreciate the opportunity to respond on behalf of the agency on these important issues.

I want to assure you that the EPA is working aggressively to protect bees and other pollinators from the potential effects of pesticides and is engaged in national and international efforts to address those concerns. We are working with beekeepers, growers, pesticide manufacturers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and states to apply technologies to reduce pesticide exposure to bees, advance best management practices, enhance enforcement guidance and ensure that real-world pollinator risks are accounted for in our pesticide regulatory decisions.


The EPA and the USDA announced a major milestone in pollinator protection at our May 2, 2013, joint press conference where we released our comprehensive scientific report on honey bee health.[1] The report states that there are multiple factors playing a role in honey bee colony declines, including loss of habitat, parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure. The report acknowledges that acute and sublethal effects of pesticides on honey bees have been increasingly documented and are a concern. What is not clear, based on current research, is whether or not pesticide exposure in general, and the neonicotinoid class of pesticides in particular, is a major factor associated with U.S. honey bee health declines. Current scientific consensus suggests that disease-carrying Varroa mites and other factors play more significant roles than do pesticides. We understand that there are many opinions and beliefs about the relative role of the many stressors, and we are working hard to address them.


The scientific issues concerning the role of pesticides are complex, and we are working closely with our global partners to better understand the potential effects of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on honey bees. Agency personnel are working with a range of international bodies, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Pesticide Effects on Insect Pollinators working group, the International Commission on Plant Pollinator Relationships, and the European Food Safety Authority to develop and implement appropriate tests for evaluating both exposure to and effects of pesticides on honey bees.


The EPA is not currently banning or severely restricting the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides. These pesticides are currently being re-evaluated through the EPA’s program for periodically re-evaluating registered pesticides to ensure they meet current health and safety standards. The EPA bases its pesticide regulatory decisions on the entire body of scientific literature, including studies submitted by the registrant, journal articles and other sources of peer-reviewed data. While the EPA and the USDA attempt to understand the role pesticides may be playing in pollinator declines, recent declines in commercial honey bees have refocused our efforts to identify and implement regulatory best management practices to minimize pesticide contact with bees. This is particularly challenging given the critical role bees play in pollinating multiple agricultural commodities as well as the important role insecticides play in controlling pests in agriculture.


While these evaluations are under way, the EPA and the USDA are leading collaborative efforts with a wide range of stakeholders to keep bees safe from pesticides. Examples of these efforts include:

  • The agency has been working with beekeepers, growers, pesticide applicators and pesticide and seed companies – as well as state lead agencies and the extension service in the USDA – to advance new equipment and formulation technologies that keep the pesticide on the seed. We are also developing abrasion-reducing performance standards and “best management practices” that can help avoid pesticide exposure to bees when they are foraging.
  • The agency has also taken immediate steps to change pesticide labels. The new labels will strengthen enforceable language to minimize potential for application in scenarios where bees are foraging in flowering crops/ornamentals and will have a bee icon and a bee advisory box with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions.

Our August 14, 2013, letter to registrants informs them of the new label requirements (http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/ecosystem/pollinator/bee-label-info-ltr.pdf).

An informational graphic explains in detail how the new label language will improve pollinator protection (http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/ecosystem/pollinator/bee-label-info-graphic.pdf).

  • We are also sharing other BMPs with beekeepers on the use of pesticides to control Varroa mites in their colonies, since miticides (not neonicotinoids, as many people have been led to believe) are the pesticides most often associated with Colony Collapse Disorder. We are also collaborating with state agencies and the North American Pollinator Campaign to advance education and training modules in pesticide applicator certification courses.
  • Enforcement is important, too. The EPA has issued new enforcement guidance to federal, state and tribal enforcement officials to enhance investigations of beekill incidents. We are continuing outreach to stakeholders to ensure all are aware of the many ways they can report beekill incidents to the EPA, should the need arise.

I should also mention that the EPA is already implementing new data requirements and risk assessment approaches for pollinators as we review the registrations of all of the neonicotinoid pesticides. These advances in assessing pollinator risk are based on a public, external, scientific peer review that was held in the fall of 2012; and they reflect a collaborative effort with experts in California, Canada and Europe – including both regulatory authorities and scientists. These new techniques will ensure studies do a more thorough job of assessing the sublethal effects of pesticides on all life stages of the honey bee, as well as effects on colony health in field settings.

Let me close by reiterating that, at the EPA, we are committed to finding and implementing a wide range of actions to effectively address the complex and varied stressors facing pollinators in this country. We believe that staying abreast of evolving science,[2] communicating with our regulatory partners here and abroad, and working with research scientists and practitioners in laboratories and in the field put the agency in the best position to account, in our regulatory decisions, for potential effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees. The registration review process allows the EPA to act quickly if the data and associated scientific evaluations warrant such action. If the risk posed by a pesticide, supported by the best available, peer-reviewed science, cannot be mitigated or managed through other measures, and the agency determines that the pesticide no longer meets the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act standard for registration, then the agency will move quickly to take appropriate regulatory action.

[1] http://go.usa.gov/Tzgm

[2] http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572#research

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Topic Information
  • Topic #: 23002-35119
  • Date Created: 09:20:2013
  • Last Modified Since: 12:12:2013
  • Viewed: 2118

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