The request has stirred controversy due to several studies that link neonicotinoids to honeybee deaths and Colony Collapse Disorder. Excessive exposure to the class of pesticides has been shown to interfere with bees’ nervous systems, and the evidence is strong enough to convince the European Union to pass a two-year ban on three types of neonics, including thiamethoxam. As of 2016, neonicotinoids have also been banned in all U.S. federal wildlife refuges.
Now Syngenta, one of the biggest pesticide manufacturers, is asking the U.S. government to increase the legal tolerance for thiamethoxam residue on alfalfa, corn, barley and wheat crops. Currently the pesticide is only approved for use as a seed treatment on these crops. If approved, this usage request would increase the acceptable level of its residue by 400 percent in at least one case.
Syngenta’s explanation for the request is that “Mid- to late-season insect pests are not controlled by seed treatment.”
The environmental group Beyond Pesticides has declared this a “step backward for pollinator health,” adding that this petition “comes at a time when researchers are discovering that even ‘near-infinitesimal’ exposure to this class of pesticides can result in harm to honeybees and other wild pollinators.”
It also comes not long after two of Ontario’s largest honey producers sued Syngenta for allegedly damaging their bee colonies, breeding stocks and honey yields after their bees were exposed to the company’s imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiomethoxam pesticides.
Syngenta disputes the connection between neonics and bee deaths. It is in the midst of an ongoing lawsuit against the EU, claiming that the current pesticide ban was based on an inaccurate assessment by the European Food Safety Authority.
“Growers depend on neonicotinoids and other crop protection products to increase crop productivity,” says Syngenta spokeswoman Ann Bryan. “And the scientific evidence clearly shows that bees and other pollinators can coexist safely with modern agricultural technologies like neonicotinoids when product labels are followed.”
In the last decade, the United States has lost over 50 percent of its managed honeybee colonies.