Pollinator Protection: Then & Now
Our conventional approach to protecting pollinators when registering a pesticide has been to:
- require studies to determine the toxicity of a compound, and
- use pesticide labeling to require measures to reduce risk.
However, new pesticide chemistries and our need to better understand the exposure and effects of pesticides on a whole colony have posed challenges to our traditional test designs and resulted in the consideration of additional tests.
Some of the newer pesticides are systemic – that is, taken up by plants – so pollinators may be exposed to residues in nectar and pollen. For older pesticides, pollinator exposure is mostly by direct contact with residues on treated plants.
As a result, we examined our test requirements to determine if they produce the information we need to adequately understand pesticide risks to pollinators. What follows are some ways we are augmenting our approach to better protect pollinators.
Pollinator-focused Exposure and Toxicity Studies
Currently, the EPA requires toxicity studies that look at the acute (short-term) effects of a pesticide on individual bees when they come into contact (dermal) with pesticide residue. We also rely on bee-kill incident reports from government, industry, and public sectors to help us understand the effects of pesticides on bees. The EPA may also require long-term studies if a pesticide appears to be very toxic to bees. To help improve our understanding, the EPA is working with researchers from North America, Europe, Australia and elsewhere to advance this science.
We have been re-examining our testing requirements to determine whether they provide the right kind of information to make regulatory decisions for the different types of pesticides and the different ways bees may be exposed to them. We have learned, for example, that pesticides may:
- have different effects on different members of a bee colony, such as worker bees and larvae;
- cause different effects depending on whether exposure is by dermal contact or by consuming pollen or nectar; and
- can be taken up by a plant (systemic) such that residues may be found in the nectar or pollen for some time after application.
We are working closely with European countries that already require tests that explore the toxic effects of pesticides on the unique conditions of the colony. We are requiring data to address potential exposures and effects employing existing EPA guidelines and European guidelines, as needed.
We are requiring data that explore the potential exposure to pesticides through nectar and pollen. We have also broadened the opportunities for reporting bee-kill incidents to EPA directly or through the use of a Web-based reporting portal hosted by the National Pesticide Information Center . For enforcement investigation, potential incidents should be reported to the appropriate State Lead Agency .
Pollinator-focused Pesticide Labeling
As in the past, we continue to rely on pesticide product labels to reduce risk by reducing potential exposure, consistent with federal pesticide law. The label’s use directions can reduce the potential for bee exposures by providing instructions on exactly how, when, and where the product can be applied.
We are working with our federal and state partners, and numerous stakeholders to examine current label language to protect pollinators.
Pollinator-focused Open Government
We are also working to include key stakeholders as we develop our risk management approaches to protect pollinators. The Pollinator Protection Team has met and will continue to meet with key stakeholders − representatives of the American Beekeeping Federation and the National Honey Bee Advisory Board, pollinator researchers in academia, commodity groups, representatives of other national and international government organizations and other stakeholders − to better understand the challenges and potential approaches to managing risks to pollinators.