With neonicotinoid insecticides under fire for contributing to pollinator decline, Dow AgroSciences is pushing its sulfoxaflor insecticide as an alternative.
As Environmental Health News reports, Dow applied to the EPA for an expansion of the registration of sulfoxaflor to allow use on “rice, avocados, residential ornamentals and at tree farms and greenhouses.”
But, is this new insecticide safer than the neonics it is trying to replace? Studies have shown that sulfoxaflor also harms pollinators, such as this research published this summer that documented a 54% decline in offspring in bumblebee colonies exposed to the insecticide (Siviter et al., 20
Plus, sulfoxaflor has a rocky regulatory history. Classified in EPA’s own studies as “very highly toxic” to bees, Dow’s first labels were approved in 2013 — “Transform” and “Closer.” The U.S. Court of Appeals overturned this registration in 2015 after a lawsuit, finding that the labels didn’t do enough to prevent harm to bees and other pollinators.
It was registered again in 2016 with added label language prohibiting use “on crops attractive to bees before and during bloom” and when bees are actively foraging (very similar to standard language on neonicotinyl labels). In the interim, EPA has also allowed many Section 18 (of FIFRA) “emergency exemptions,” resulting in over 17 million acres of farmland being treated with sulfoxaflor over the past couple of years (Bienkowski, 2018).
With mounting data pointing to serious pollinator decline, EPA’s inclination to allow wider use of sulfoxaflor is a classic example of “risk trading.” It is also why, despite all the evidence of pesticide-induced pollinator decline, the “spray our way out” approach to pest and weed management remains regrettably central to modern agriculture in America.
Brian Bienkowski, “Dow wants to bolster use of a pesticide shown to hurt bees’ reproduction,” Environmental Health News, published online October 16, 2018.
Harry Siviter, Mark J. F. Brown & Ellouise Leadbeater, “Sulfoxaflor exposure reduces bumblebee reproductive success,” Nature, 561, 109–112, 2018.