The Unlikely Cause Behind Florida's Bee Holocaust: The U.S. Government

On a gray October day in 2011, a disheveled man in a camouflage baseball cap plunged his hands into the mounds of dead bees, pulling free a handful of the corpses. "I'm a pretty tough guy, but this is heart wrenching," he said from his Brevard County bee farm. "We work really hard on these bees to keep them in good health."

But is everyone working as hard? In 2011, nearly 12 million bees died in Brevard County during a baffling holocaust. Headlines screamed that no one knew why they were dying. And have kept dying: Florida bee keeper Bill Rhodes loses as much as 80 percent of his population every year.

But now, according to a rash of lawsuits across the country, a new explanation for the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, which has wiped out millions of bees, has emerged: It's the U.S. government's fault. The EPA has long known that certain pesticides kill bees, the lawsuits allege, and has done nothing.

As early as spring of last year, longtime Florida bee scholars like David Hackenberg were warning that a new class of pesticides called neonicotinoids were behind the budding bee extinction. The journal Science published several scathing articles detailing the catastrophic and puzzling effects it may have on bees: Bees weren't just dying -- but abandoning the crop altogether. In July of this year, yet another study emerged in the science journal Plos One.

Researchers pinned it on the Neonicotinoids, called "systemics," which are introduced into the seed and remain inside the crop forever. The most important one, which is heavily subsidized and used by corn crops across 90 million acres in the country, is called Clothiandin.

The EPA, according to a 2012 Tampa Bay Times article, was hot to investigate the relationship between the pesticide and the death of bees.

Nearly two years later, and the EPA is still green-lighting the controversial pesticides, even after the European Union banned them for their effect on bees, as Quartz illustrates.

A federal lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California asks federal judges to overturn the EPA approval of the neonicotoniods, calling the EPA "well aware" that recent studies have shown "the risks to honey bees, pollinators, and other sensitive species."

Another suit filed in U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals claims the EPA "inadequately considered or ignored entirely" the harmful effects of certain pesticides on bee populations.

If you know more, send your story tip to author, Terrence McCoy.

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