The Label is the Law: Productions of Ignorance about Bee Toxic Agrochemicals

Authors: Jennie Durant*, University of California, Berkeley
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography, Animal Geographies
Keywords: knowledge politics, production of ignorance, honeybees, STS
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 4:30 PM / 6:10 PM
Room: Roosevelt 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper, I examine knowledge politics surrounding pesticides in the United States and the role it plays in honey bee declines. Since 2006, U.S. beekeepers have lost an average of one-third of their colonies each year. Though a number of factors influence bee health, beekeepers, researchers, and policymakers cite pesticides as a primary contributor. In the U.S., pesticide registration is overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with the required tests conducted by chemical companies applying for registration. To date, EPA only requires tests that measure acute toxicity for non-target species, which means that pesticides with sub-lethal or chronic toxicities are not labeled bee-toxic, and farmers can apply them without penalty while bees are on their farms or orchards. In addition, California state and county regulators will typically only investigate a bee kill caused by a labeled bee toxic pesticide, and so emergent data on non-labeled, sub-lethal pesticides goes uncollected. These gaps in data collection frustrate beekeepers and disincentivize them from reporting colony losses to regulatory agencies—thus reinforcing ignorance about which chemicals are toxic to bees. I term the cycle of ignorance co-constituted by regulatory shortfalls and beekeepers’ regulatory disengagement an ‘ignorance loop’. I discuss what this dynamic can tell us about the politics of knowledge production and pesticide governance and the consequences of ‘ignorance loops’ for stakeholders and the environment.

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