The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded Wednesday that applying a common pesticide to certain crops harms the bees that pollinate them.
The risk assessment for the pesticide imidacloprid is the first of a series of comprehensive evaluations of how the controversial neonicotinoid family of pesticides affects bees.
Environmentalists and food safety advocates have sounded the alarm bell in recent years over neonicotinoids, saying they are the chief threat to bees and one of the main causes of massive declines in bee populations.
Bees are essential to agriculture and food security, since they pollinate so many plants.
“EPA is committed not only to protecting bees and reversing bee loss, but for the first time assessing the health of the colony for the neonicotinoid pesticides,” Jim Jones, the top chemical safety official at the EPA, said in a statement.
“Using science as our guide, this preliminary assessment reflects our collaboration with the state of California and Canada to assess the results of the most recent testing required by EPA,” he said.
The assessment concluded that, when used to control insects on citrus trees and cotton, imidacloprid can end up in the plants’ nectar to a degree that threatens the health of bees and their hives and reduces honey population.
But for other plants like corn and leafy vegetables, the threat does not meet the harm threshold, the EPA said.
The EPA is taking comment from the public on the assessment and has not set out any plans to ban or further restrict the use of imidacloprid. But the agency has halted approval of new neonicotinoid pesticides while it is undertaking its evaluation.
The agency is planning later this year to release similar assessments on three other pesticides in the neonicotinoid family.