EPA has approved a previously registered pesticide for use against a parasite that harms bees, a move the agency calls critical to protecting bees and consistent with President Obama's memo on improving pollinator health, though a beekeeper group says targeting parasites is insufficient and limits on bee-toxic pesticides are also needed. On March 10, EPA registered oxalic acid to target varroa mites, which EPA calls “a serious and devastating pest of honeybee colonies,” according to the registration document.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requested the registration of oxalic acid, which is currently used in Canada and Europe to target varroa mites and which EPA had previously registered as an anti-microbial pesticide until registrants voluntarily canceled their registrations in 1994.
The registration comes as EPA and USDA are investigating the massive decline of honey bees and other pollinators seen since 2006 and have named both the varroa mite and pesticides as among the factors in the decline, spurring debate between environmentalists and pesticide producers over which is the primary culprit. The two agencies are leading a federal Pollinator Health Task Force that is expected to soon release a new strategy for implementing Obama's June 20 memo on stemming declines in pollinators by improving habitat, assessing how pesticides and other stressors contribute to pollinator declines and taking action where appropriate. The executive memo also instructs EPA to expedite review of registration applications for new products targeting pests that harm pollinators, and includes a call for EPA to assess potential risks of neonicotinoid pesticides to pollinators.
Environmental and beekeeping groups have argued that neonicotinoids, systemic pesticides that are taken up into plants' pollen, nectar and stem, are the driving factor in pollinator declines, and are pushing EPA to ban or restrict use of the substances pending further study, and also for EPA to expedite its ongoing registration review of neonicotinoids.
In the March 10 registration document, EPA says varroa mites feed on developing bees and reduce their life span, and that if an infested bee colony is not treated, it will likely die. Varroa mites also transmit numerous honeybee viruses, and have quickly developed resistance to registered chemicals.