US Court annuls market approval for sulfoxaflor

Greenpeace and PAN Europe letter to European Commissioner for health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis

Publication - September 17, 2015
Dear Commissioner Andriukaitis,

We are writing to draw your attention to a recent judgment last week by a United States (US) Appeals Court. In this judgment, the Court decided to cancel the approval granted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to allow the use of the systemic insecticide sulfoxaflor, which is manufactured by Dow AgroSciences. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, found that the EPA’s decision to allow the use of sulfoxaflor was “based on flawed and limited data”, in particular as regards the impact on honey bee colonies.

As the Commissioner responsible for approving sulfoxaflor for a wide range of uses in the European Union on 27 July 2015, we are sure that you will find this judgement of great interest. The findings of the Court are entirely consistent with the concerns raised by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Your approval for use in the EU was made despite the fact that EFSA concluded in its risk assessment that the available data were insufficient to rule out a high risk to honey bees. EFSA highlighted a fundamental lack of available data to allow a robust assessment of all aspects of honey bee health and, moreover, did not even attempt to evaluate the risk to other pollinators, such as wild bees. EFSA also stated that the proposed mitigation measures were not backed up by sufficient evidence to confirm that they were likely to be effective. In addition, EFSA indicated the strong possibility of a high long-term risk to small herbivorous mammals in connection with some field uses of sulfoxaflor.

Against this background your request for Dow to submit supplementary data only after approving sulfoxaflor for use appears to be ill-judged. Far from being likely to simply “increase confidence in the decision” as required by EU law (Regulation 1107/2009, Annex II), such data may well further confirm that this insecticide poses a serious risk for bees.

Under the circumstances, with the extensive gaps present in the data provided by Dow and the clear risks suggested by this data, the decision to approve sulfoxaflor can only be viewed as irresponsible. It is clearly in contradiction to a key principle of the European Union’s health and environmental policy: the precautionary principle.

Your predecessor, Commissioner Borg, when faced with similar assessments of insecticides and their risk to bees, decided to partially ban the use of four of them: clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and fipronil. Our organisations are supporting the Commission’s defence of these bans in the European Court of Justice after challenges by Bayer and Syngenta.

Our question to you, Commissioner, is: have EFSA and the Commission carefully reviewed all information considered in the context of the US approval and subsequent annulment by the US Court? If they have not, we ask the Commission to require Dow to submit this information urgently.

We request that you warn EU Member States of the US Court’s decision to cancel the US approval of sulfoxaflor so they can take steps to protect the environment based upon this landmark decision. Member States should not approve any product containing sulfoxaflor until its safety has been proven.

Finally, we are asking you to ensure that the applicant submits all the data necessary to conclude a full assessment of the risk to bees posed by sulfoxaflor before the legal deadline of 18 August 2017.

We would be grateful if you could kindly inform us of the actions you have taken and will be taking in the future in relation to this issue.

In view of the public interest in this matter we will make this letter available on our websites.

Yours sincerely,

François Veillerette
President of PAN Europe

Jorgo Riss
Director, Greenpeace European Unit


For the full letter, please click on the link below. For more information, please contact: +32 (0)2 274 1911 or

20150917 Letter to EC on sulfoxaflor - GP and PAN