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story.lead_photo.caption A bee works on a honeycomb at the Gene Brandi Apiary in Los Banos, Calif., in this file photo. In a preliminary report Wednesday, the EPA said the pesticide imidacloprid “shows a threat” to honeybees when used on certain crops. (AP / MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ )

The Environmental Protection Agency's announcement that a popular pesticide is harmful to honeybees when used on cotton ignores good science, a University of Arkansas entomologist said Friday.

"This flies right in the face of the research we've been doing in the mid-South," said Gus Lorenz, distinguished professor and associate head of entomology for the UA System's Division of Agriculture.

The pesticide imidacloprid, most commonly sold by Bayer under the brand name Gaucho, is the only effective seed treatment against a devastating cotton pest, Lorenz said. Insects called thrips flock to cotton when it emerges and can cause yield losses of 130 to 150 pounds per acre, Lorenz said. A bale is 500 pounds of cotton.

In extreme cases, entire fields of cotton can be wiped out, Lorenz said.

Arkansas' cotton crop, which has been declining because of falling prices, was valued at more than $243 million by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2014, the last year for which figures were available.

In its preliminary risk assessment issued Wednesday, the EPA said imidacloprid "shows a threat" to honeybees when its residue in cotton and citrus pollen and nectar is above 25 parts per billion. Detrimental effects include fewer bees and less honey, EPA said.

The agency said it found that "citrus and cotton may have residues of the pesticide in pollen and nectar above the threshold." It said other crops such as corn and leafy vegetables either don't produce nectar or have residues below the threshold.

The issue is important because honeybees are crucial to the food supply: About one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination.

The American Beekeeping Federation did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Some advocacy groups want the entire class of pesticides called neonicotinoids -- the chemicals work on insects' central nervous systems and are sometimes called "neonics" -- banned to protect bees.

In response to Lorenz' criticism, an EPA spokesman noted Friday that the agency had not taken any action against imidacloprid. Interested parties are encouraged to express their concerns, "including critiques of the data we relied on and other data not accounted for in the assessment," during a 60-day public comment period that will start later this month, Robert Daguillard said.

EPA also plans preliminary risk assessments on three other neonics that are scheduled to be released for public comment in December.

Lorenz said he and his colleagues had planted cotton seeds treated with imidacloprid and then pulled samples at various stages of plant growth. Tests showed "fairly high levels" of the pesticide when the plants first emerged, he said. By the time the plants bloomed, and became attractive to bees, the pesticide was below the lethal level in pollen and undetectable in nectar, he said.

"We gave the data to the EPA," Lorenz said. "They are well aware of it, but they ignored it in their review and that concerns us. This is not about science. It's about politics."

He said he would raise his objections during the comment period.

Lorenz said the loss of imidacloprid would be especially alarming for Arkansas' cotton growers because 100 percent of the state's crop is infested with thrips, which feed on the plant's leaves. Thrips in Arkansas already are resistant to the other available seed treatment, sold by Syngenta under the brand name Cruiser, he said.

If imidacloprid is banned, farmers will have to use spray pesticides that put more chemicals in the environment than do seed treatments. Spraying also drives up costs for producers, he said.

Lorenz also expressed concern that a November decision by a federal court to reject the EPA's approval of the Dow AgroSciences pesticide Transform could leave the state's milo producers vulnerable to sugarcane aphids. The court ruled there wasn't sufficient evidence that Transform would not hurt bee populations, Lorenz said.

He disagreed, saying Transform had undergone a rigorous review before being approved and was less toxic than many chemicals now on the market. Transform has been used to kill tarnished plant bugs in cotton in Arkansas for several years, Lorenz said, and has been used against sugarcane aphids in milo under a temporary EPA emergency measure known as a Section 18.

The EPA's action in November means only Sivanto, a pesticide made by Bayer, is authorized for use against sugarcane aphids in milo, Lorenz said. Milo is also know as grain sorghum.

Lorenz said relying on a single pesticide was risky because sugarcane aphids, which have a life cycle of three to five days, can build resistance quickly. He said milo growers may be forced to spray more often, which again would increase the amount of chemicals in the environment and drive up production costs.

"It's a lose-lose situation," Lorenz said. "It makes it harder on the grower. It makes it harder on everything, including the honeybees."

Sugarcane aphids can cause yield losses of 20 to 60 percent in milo, he said, and occasionally wipe out entire fields.

Milo growers planted about 500,000 acres in Arkansas in 2015, almost tripling the 2014 acreage, according to the UA Cooperative Extension Service.

Lorenz said the UA Division of Agriculture would apply for Section 18 approval to use Transform in controlling both sugarcane aphids in milo and tarnished plant bugs in cotton for 2016.

"We can only hope the EPA will help us out and grant us permission to use this product," Lorenz said.

Business on 01/09/2016

Print Headline: UA bee expert raps EPA data


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Archived Comments

  • GCW
    January 9, 2016 at 7:29 a.m.

    Science can't compete with politics and common sense can't compete with the federal government.

  • Jfish
    January 9, 2016 at 8:30 a.m.

    Maybe so, but the federal government is usually not being funded by a pesticide company to their research. Usually their is this little thing called money that lies at the base of alot of decisions.

  • PopMom
    January 9, 2016 at 9:44 a.m.

    Well, something is killing all the bees. Of course, many cotton planters donate to the U of A.

  • Guslor
    January 9, 2016 at 12:43 p.m.

    I'd like to respond to the comments that have been posted. When we started this work, we wanted to know if these products were really the issue that we had heard. We were fully prepared to let the data speak for itself. If these products are a threat to bees or the environment we wanted to know. See, that's what research, is or should be,all about. As a Land Grant University practitioner my responsibility is to serve all citizens in the state and to provide information that will enhance the lives of Arkansans. Beekeepers, farmers, and everyone else. Neonicotinoid insecticides have been banned in Europe now for about 2 years and it hasn't improved bee health yet. There are a lot of issues impacting bees. We need to concentrate our efforts on finding out the real
    cause for bee health issues. These products are very important in helping growers maintain yields. A strong agriculture means folks won't be hungry in the future as it becomes increasingly difficult to meet world demand for food. At the same time we have a responsibility to protect the environment. Please don't attack my integrity as a scientist. Nobody can buy me, ask anyone I work with or that knows me or my colleagues. By the way no chemical companies funded this work, we wouldn't allow it for this reason. By the way, farmers aren't interested in using products that harm the environment. They're the ones that live and work in it every day. To think they would jeapordize the environment is kind of silly to me. Finally, I'll tell you that we have instituted a Pollinator Protection Program here in Arkansas to improve communication between farmers and beekeeper switch a goal of protecting the health of honeybees.

  • DontDrinkDatKoolAid
    January 9, 2016 at 2:03 p.m.

    Thanks Gus, for the clarifications.

  • PopMom
    January 9, 2016 at 3:43 p.m.

    Thanks Gus. I apologize for my insinuation. I did some more reading and imidacloprid in limited amounts appears to be not as harmful on seeds as on flowering plants etc. Many of us are alarmed by the effects of toxins on the environment and extremely concerned about the health of the honey bee. While imidacloprid might not immediately kill a honey bee and is not the most harmful substance for it, scientists really are not sure as to whether it could weaken it. The farmer comes from the perspective of wanting to improve crops. I come from the perspective of a mother of a child with neurofibromatosis. While his genetic defect probably was not caused by imidacloprid on cotton, the startling increase in this condition and other mutations and illnesses certainly is caused by our increasingly toxic society. The benefits of all toxins and pollution must be weighed against the risks. As a result of my child's health situation, I would like to downsize my life and live simpler. I try to buy organic as much as possible. I've stopped using chemicals on my yard. While pulling up dandelions and other weeds by hand is much work, I hope to have a safer yard for my child. I've also noticed that I have a new bee population in my yard that I did not have a couple of years ago. (I've been letting some clover grow, and they love it.) Now, I need to work on decreasing my global footprint. I have bought some products made with "organic cotton" so it must be possible to grow cotton without chemicals--though I don't know what standard is required to call cotton "organic."