July 14, 2015 Practice Points

Declining Honey Bee Population Has Chemical Industry Watchdogs Abuzz

By Alan D. Mathis

Reports of the demise of the honey bee population have been rampant in recent years. Although risks to the health of honey bees are wide-ranging, including viruses, fungi, parasites, and nutritional issues, a mysterious problem known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is causing particular concern of late. See USDA Agricultural Research Service, Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder.

Although the USDA reports that "no scientific cause for CCD has been proven," USDA Agricultural Research Service, Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder, industry watchdog groups think they know better. In a blog post, Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization that represents beekeeping organizations, pointed the finger at neonicotinoids—nicotine-derived pesticides that came onto the market in the late-1990s and have since largely replaced pesticides known as organophosphates. Earthjustice, The Perfect Crime: What's Killing All the Bees?(updated April 15, 2015).

Groups of commercial beekeepers represented by Earthjustice have filed lawsuits in California state court and in federal court to challenge the EPA's approval of sulfoxaflor, a neonicotinoid insecticide that they allege shows extreme toxicity to bees. These beekeeper plaintiffs point to a body of studies which they allege show that neonics, even in low doses, impair bees' ability to navigate. Mother Jones, 3 New Studies Link Bee Decline to Pesticide (March 29, 2012). Earthjustice reports that decisions in both cases are expected soon.

This new activity in the highly-publicized world of honey bee decline has also gained the attention of other plaintiffs' law firms. See Jere Beasley Report, Save The Bees! (May 5, 2015). It will be interesting to monitor how scientific studies and litigation develop in the area of honey bee decline.

Keywords: products liability, litigation, bees, neonicotinoids, colony collapse disorder

Alan D. Mathis is with Butler Snow LLP in Birmingham, Alabama.


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