EPA turns to pesticides to protect bees from colony decline

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The labels will be required for pesticides containing a class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids, which have been accused of playing a role in the decline of bee populations. They will give restrictions and precautions to warn users that the pesticides “can kill bees and other insect pollinators.” 

Earlier this year, the European Union began the process of restricting three types of neonicotinoid pesticides to protect honeybees.

Federal agencies, however, have been reluctant to go that far.

In May, a joint report from the EPA and Department of Agriculture pointedly declined to call pesticides the sole cause of colony collapse disorder.Instead, the report pointed to myriad factors for the bees’ disappearance, including a parasitic mite, poor nutrition and lack of genetic diversity that exposes the insects to diseases and sharp changes in weather.

On Thursday the agency said it would work with pesticide manufacturers to get them to use the new labels.

In a letter to pesticide producers, the head of the EPA's pesticides office, Steven Bradbury, said that the new labels “will highlight the measures necessary to better protect pollinators and also help achieve label clarity and consistency across the chemical class.”

Environmental activists criticized the EPA for not taking bolder steps to help honeybees.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Pesticide Action Network, which works to advance alternatives to pesticides, said that the labels “will only make matters worse by giving a false sense of acceptability to the use of these products that will result in greater harms to bees.”

Since 2006, when colony collapse disorder was first noticed, as much as one-third of bee colonies in the U.S. have disappeared.

Bees are needed to pollinate fruit and vegetable crops, and benefit as much as one-third of all food and beverages. Some foods, like almonds, are entirely dependent on bee pollination.

-- This story was updated at 4:50 p.m.