Farmers could be temporarily prohibited from applying pesticides at certain times of the year if proposed new environmental regulations are adopted.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed limiting the application of what it calls “acutely toxic pesticides” during times when flowers are in bloom and in areas where farmers have paid for bees to help pollinate their crops. Commercial beekeeping hives account for about 90 percent of the nation’s bees, according to an expert cited by the Associated Press.
The restrictions would pertain to products applied directly to crop leaves with active ingredients determined to have “high toxicity for bees,” the EPA said.
Jim Jones, the EPA’s assistant administrator for the office of chemical safety and pollution prevention, said the restrictions would apply to 76 chemical compounds, which account for many hundreds of products.
“We’re trying to create greater space between the pollinators and the pesticides that are toxic to them,” Jones said. “Prohibiting the use of pesticides that are toxic to bees when you know the bees are going to be there, we think is an important protection that we can create for honeybees.”
The decline in bees and other pollinators has reached alarming levels. More than 40 percent of the nation’s bee colonies died in the last 12 months, according to a report co-authored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Apiary Inspectors of America.
The Agriculture Department estimates that honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of U.S. crops, mostly fruits and vegetables.
The Obama Administration released a plan earlier this month meant to stave off further bee decline. The plan includes restoring “7 million acres of bee-friendly habitat that have been lost to urbanization, development and farming,” as NPR’s Alison Aubrey reported.
Some environmental activists, however, criticized the plan for not taking aim at pesticides, Aubrey said.
The proposed pesticide restrictions would apply to neonicotinoids, the controversial class of widely used pesticides some research has shown to be particularly damaging to bee health, Jones said. He also said the EPA is working to address concerns over pesticide-laden dust kicked up during corn planting.
“We don’t think that there’s a silver bullet to the pollinator health issues in the United States,” Jones said. “We have to be working at all of the stressors.”