LIHUE — While pesticide manufacturers say green-lighting the insecticide sulfoxaflor for use in the U.S. will provide local farmers with better pest-management tools, beekeepers on Kauai say the action is a step in the wrong direction.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced the decision Friday to resume broad use of the pesticide used to control bugs like aphids and made by Corteva Agriscience, a company that has some operations on Kauai.
Sulfoxaflor is also marketed as the insecticide Isoclast, an insect neurotoxin.
“After conducting an extensive risk analysis, including the review of one of the agency’s largest datasets on the effects of pesticide on bees, EPA is approving the use of sulfoxaflor on alfalfa, corn, cacao, grains, pineapple, sorghum, teff, teosinte, tree plantations, citrus, cotton, cucurbits, soybeans and strawberries,” EPA said in a news release Friday.
Representatives from Corteva Agriscience, which does not produce any pesticides on Kauai, said Friday they’re pleased with the EPA decision.
“Growers should have access to tools that can be used safely according to the product label. Isoclast was developed to provide an alternative that helps reduce stress on the environment,” said Laurie Yoshida, communications specialist for Corteva.
Friday’s EPA announcement — coming after the agriculture industry accused the agency of unduly favoring honeybees — makes sulfoxaflor the latest bug and weed-killer allowed by the Trump administration, despite lawsuits alleging environmental or human harm.
Honeybees pollinate billions of dollars of food crops annually in the U.S., but agriculture and other land uses that cut into their supply of pollen, as well as pesticides, parasites and other threats, have them on a sharp decline. The University of Maryland said U.S. beekeepers lost 38 percent of their bee colonies last winter alone, the highest one-winter loss in the 13-year history of their survey.
EPA Assistant Administrator Alexandra Dapolito Dunn said Friday that new industry studies that have not been made public show a low level of harm to bees and other creatures beyond the targeted crop pests.
Dunn said EPA’s newly-reset rules for use of sulfoxaflor, such as generally prohibiting the spraying of fruit- and nut-bearing plants in bloom, when pollinators would be attracted to the flowers, would limit harm to bees. She called it “an important and highly effective tool for growers.”
However, beekeepers across the nation, including on Kauai, say the caveats on the sulfoxaflor approval aren’t enough to protect pollinators.
“For beekeepers, this is a step in the wrong direction,” said Kauai beekeeper James Trujillo. “The decision to restore this product for agricultural uses on honeybee-attracting crops can only put these important pollinators at greater risk.”
Trujillo points out the honeybee population is further threatened by the administration’s decision to suspend data-collection for the national Honey Bee Colonies Report, “the most important reporting program for honeybee health.”
Michele Colopy, program director of the Pollinator Stewardship Council, one of the beekeeping groups that had successfully sued to block sulfoxaflor, said the EPA limits weren’t enough to protect bees and other beneficial bugs whose numbers are declining.
“We understand farmers want to have every tool in their toolbox” when it comes to curbing insects that damage crops. “But the … pesticides are just decimating beneficial insects,” Colopy said.
Sulfoxaflor was first approved for use by the EPA in 2013 and restricted use to exclude crops that attract bees in 2016.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.