The EPA under Obama may be stronger than it was during the frightening Bush years, at least on some issues. But there's one mess that started back in 2003 that continues to make the agency look more like an industry protection agency than anything related to the environment.
Grist has the story of a leaked memo that has nothing to do with Wikileaks, and instead has everything to do with the nation's food supply. The EPA has essentially allowed agrichemical giant Bayer to monitor itself on the safety and use of its own pesticide, clothianidin.
The pesticide has been used widely on corn, the largest crop in the U.S., and Bayer is currently trying to get it registered for use on cotton and mustard seed. Those crops don't make up the country's entire food supply, of course, but corn is a huge attraction for bees, which if you haven't heard by now, are in serious trouble. And because they're in trouble, so is a lot of the food we eat.
Clothianidin, Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) explains:
is of the neonicotinoid family of pesticides. They are designed as systemics, to be taken up by a plant's vascular system and expressed through pollen, nectar and guttation droplets from which bees then forage and drink. Scientists are concerned about the combined and cumulative effects of the multiple pesticides bees are exposed to in these ways. Neonicotinoids are of particular concern because they have cumulative, sublethal effects on insect pollinators that correspond to CCD [colony collapse disorder] symptoms - namely, neurobehavioral and immune system disruptions.
Using documents leaked by PANNA and Beyond Pesticides, Grist details a timeline of this embarrassing kowtowing by the EPA to Bayer.
It started in 2003, when Bayer first moved to register the pesticide and was initially turned down by the EPA, which wanted further study of the potential risks of the chemical—followed by a mysterious change of heart. From Grist:
in April of that year, just two months later, the agency backtracked. "After further consideration," the agency wrote in another memo, the EPA has decided to grant clothianidin "conditional registration" -- meaning that Bayer was free to sell it, and seed processors were free to apply it to their products...
In March of 2004, Bayer requested an extension on its December deadline for delivering the life-cycle study. In a March 11 memo [PDF], the EPA agreed, giving the chemical giant until May 2005 to complete the research...
Not until August of 2007, more than a year after its deadline, did Bayer deliver its study. In a November 2007 memo [PDF], EPA scientists declared the study "scientifically sound," adding that it, "satisfies the guideline requirements for a field toxicity test with honeybees."
Two of the EPA's own scientists, however, disagree, and this is where the latest leaked memo comes into play. The study has been criticized all along for being invalid, if not a total joke—not least because the fields used for test and control were so close that bees could mingle in both—but the EPA scientists, an ecologist and a chemist, specifically call out the Bayer study for not satisfying EPA requirements.
They also say, "clothianidin's major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees)... Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis."
The question now is whether the EPA will continue to allow the use of clothianidin on corn, and expand it to cotton and mustard seed, despite the clear science saying that it shouldn't.