Another update on the massive Bumblebee kill in Oregon. A memorial service to draw attention to the plight of the bumblebees occurred last Sunday. Sometimes, sustained efforts are required to get the attention of regulatory agencies. In this case, Oregon Department of Agriculture should be recognized for their rapid initial response to determine that the neonicotinoid, Dinotefuran, killed the Bumblebees.The incident was so massive and appalling to ODA biologists that the agency took emergency action. They put into place a 180 day immediate ban on any use of Dinotefuran on plants in Oregon. The emergency ban protects bees and limits additional “pollinator incidents” until the agency can complete the investigation, collect information and define policy. Questions that the agency will probably consider are:
1. What is the extent of the problem? How many incidents have been reported? How many have been confirmed? How many unreported incidents are estimated?
2. What uses lead to bee kills? Can Dinotefuran be used in a way that minimizes harm to pollinators?
3. Are current rules for use of Dinotefuran adequate to protect pollinators? Would changes to the rules about when, where and how the pesticide is used protect pollinators while still providing effective pest control?
4. Are current instructions confusing or unclear? Are changes in the instructions for use needed to better communicate the threat that the product poses to pollinators to applicators and homeowners?
5. Are applicators and homeowners likely to comply with the rules for use if they are more clearly stated? This is a huge concern for pesticide regulators. A product can have the best science and engineering, the risks can be quantified and understood, the precautions needed to protect pollinators clear. However, this effort can be defeated by applicators or homeowners who don’t follow directions for use or even worse, don’t bother to read them. Regulators prefer “product engineering controls” rather reliance on human compliance behavior. Regulators know that compliance will never be 100 percent. Regulators must decide the level of non-compliance (improper use) that is acceptable. If compliance is too low, and efforts to improve compliance are unsuccessful, regulators may have no option other than to ban the product or restrict its use.
While regulators seek answers to these questions, the ban on use has compliance issues of its own. There is no recall of products containing Dinotefuran and these products are still on store shelves for sale to homeowners. People who have Dinotefuran products may be unaware of the ban or even unaware that the product they are using contains Dinotefuran (because they don’t read the label). The Oregon Department of Agriculture has published a list of banned products containing Dinotefuran. If you live in Oregon, by law you may not use these products on plants until 2014. If you live outside Oregon, you are not subject to Oregon legal restrictions. However, those concerned about pollinators need to carefully consider if they should voluntarily suspend their use or at least take extra care to not harm pollinators. The Oregon list is a useful starting point for pesticide users in other states to inform themselves about the potential risks.
Regulators have a difficult task ahead. Expect to see new rules, new labeling and new restrictions. Neonicotinoids will come under increasing scrutiny if pollinators are not adequately protected.