The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has issued new pesticide product labels that will restrict the use of four neonicotinoid pesticides –  imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam — where bees are present.

The new labels represent an important effort by USEPA to address the issue of honey bee “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) without banning the pesticides, as some advocacy groups have called for.   USEPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released a scientific report concluding that “a complex set of stressors” in addition to pesticide exposure are associated with CCD, including “loss of habitat, parasites and disease, genetics, [and] poor nutrition.”

The new labels generally prohibit application of the pesticides while bees are foraging as well as under certain other conditions relevant to particular types of crops.  The labels also contain a “bee advisory box” with the words “Protection of Pollinators” featured prominently at the top of the box.  The box has a bee icon and declares: “This product can kill bees and other insect pollinators.”   The labels warn applicators about potential routes of bee exposure to the pesticides, such as: (i) “direct contact during foliar application, or contact with residues on plant surfaces after foliar application,” and (ii) “ingestion of residues in nectar and pollen when the pesticide is applied as a seed treatment, soil, tree injection, as well as foliar applications.”

The labels require applicators to “minimize drift of this product onto beehives or to off-site pollinator attractive habitat.”  The labels declare that “drift of this product onto beehives can result in bee kills.”

In a letter to registrants of the four neonicotinoid pesticides, USEPA stated that the new label requirements should be “immediately implemented” and advised the registrants to submit a “fast-track amendment” by September 30, 2013 to revise their product labels to incorporate the new bee information.

USEPA’s action follows a decision by the European Commission in May to adopt a two-year prohibition on certain uses of three of these neonicotinoid pesticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) beginning December 1, 2013.