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Controversial Insecticides To Carry Clearer Warnings To Protect Bees

Northwest beekeepers are applauding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for requiring certain pesticides to carry a clearer warning label. The idea is to prevent home gardeners and farmers from inadvertently harming beneficial pollinators, like bees.

The EPA directive applies to widely used bug killers, rose and flower treatments, and grub controls. Future product labels will have to carry specific warnings under a picture of a bee.

Washington State Beekeepers Association president Mark Emrich claims current labeling is inadequate in terms of telling consumers what the insecticides will kill. In recent years, many beekeepers around the West have experienced sharp die-offs in their hives, some of which they blame on pesticide exposure.

"If somebody buys this product, they have to be able to apply it properly and they have to know how to do that. The labels fall short," says Emrich.

He says he and other beekeepers voiced this complaint to EPA staff earlier this year.

"I was very, very pleased to hear they acted on this," says the Rochester, Washington honey producer.

EPA's Director of Pesticide Programs Steve Bradbury says the agency will work with manufacturers to squeeze the additional guidance onto containers. It could be a tight fit for smaller product sizes.

"We're confident the label changes will be in the marketplace in the 2014 season," says Bradbury.

The new labels tell users not to apply insecticide on plants that are flowering and when bees are foraging.

The insecticides in question belong to a class called neonicotinoids. "Neonics," for short, appear in more than a hundred different garden products sold under brand names such as Bayer, Ortho and Scotts. A range of studies have shown significant adverse affects on bees exposed to high doses in the lab, but separate studies using more realistic field conditions show minimal harm or are inconclusive.

A coalition of environmental groups and several Midwestern beekeepers have sued U.S. EPA to suspend the registration of the two most common neonicotinoid pesticides.

“EPA’s acknowledgement that stricter labels are necessary is encouraging, but not nearly enough,” said Peter Jenkins, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, in a statement Friday.

On the Web:

Pollinator protection - EPA
New bee advisory label - EPA
Oregon Restricts Pesticide Use To Avoid More Bee Kills (June 27, 2013) - OPB

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.