Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of an insecticide that shares similarities with neonicotinoids revoked

A US federal appeals court has overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approval of sulfoxaflor, an insecticide that acts on the same insect receptors as neonicotinoids, which have been implicated in the decline of honeybees and other pollinators. In the ruling, a trio of judges said that the studies the EPA relied upon for sulfoxaflor’s approval in May 2013 are inconclusive regarding the pesticide’s actual risks to bees.

‘In this case, given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it,’ wrote Judge Mary Schroeder. ‘I am inclined to believe the EPA … decided to register sulfoxaflor unconditionally in response to public pressure for the product and attempted to support its decision retroactively with studies it had previously found inadequate,’ wrote Judge N R Smith.

The ruling means that sulfoxaflor may not be used in the US unless the EPA obtains the necessary information about its impacts on honeybees and re-approves the pesticide, according to Earthjustice, which represented a coalition of commercial beekeeping trade groups and individual commercial beekeepers in the case.

However, the EPA says the ruling’s implications are unclear, and the agency is reviewing the legal opinion in consultation with the US Justice Department to determine its next steps.

Earthjustice expressed hope that the court’s findings will encourage the EPA to re-examine its other unconditional registrations of neonicotinoid pesticides for possible flawed and limited data.