I’ve received a lot of questions regarding the notice from the Federal Register that oxalic acid has been exempted from tolerance in honey.  Beekeepers are asking me what this means.
The following is a direct quote from my contact at EPA (who checked with the Regulation Division):
“The exemption from tolerance was issued under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA).  EPA was able to meet the requirements stipulated under the FFDCA to exempt oxalic acid from tolerances; however, the chemical still has to be applied as a registered product under FIFRA. The whole exemption was to support the use when the supers are on; EPA is finishing up the amended label to allow for use of the registered oxalic acid product year-round.  If the beekeepers don’t use a registered product, they would be applying an unregistered pesticide and would be subject to enforcement under FIFRA.”

The above is great news — that EPA is in the process of amending the label for application even if honey supers are on!

That said, this announcement does not mean that there’s yet been any change to the label — it won’t be legal to apply OA for mite treatment with honey supers on (or even during the summer) until the label has been changed, and even then, one would still need to only use OA registered for that specific use (with a label from EPA on the container).  Currently, I believe that Api Bioxal is the only registered product in the U.S.

Allow me to address a recent between-the-lines suggestion on another forum that beekeepers could act as scofflaws, by claiming that their “intent” for applying OA was not for mite control, that they might technically be able to avoid prosecution for illegal application of a listed pesticide (once any chemical is listed as a pesticide, it puts it into a new category, and OA is in that category).

This detail came up last year when I was on the phone with the person in charge of Pesticide Research Authorizations for California.  I was discussing my research, and mentioned that I was doing titrations to track the distribution of OA within the hive.  He/she said, that’s not covered by your PRA!   I responded that it didn’t need to be, since I wasn’t doing those specific applications for varroa control (which would have been considered as pesticide applications), but rather only to track how the chemical distributed upon the bees in the hive.

Similarly, there is no law against using OA as a wood bleach on hive components.  But if one’s intent was to apply it to the colony in order to kill mites, then that would then be considered as an application of a listed pesticide, and would therefore be illegal.  So yes, what’s in your thought bubble could make the difference between being prosecuted or not.  I’ve yet to hear of a test case.

Please keep this in mind.  If we beekeepers feel that we can be pesticide scofflaws, how could we then demand that farmers follow the label to protect our bees?  The EPA is well aware of this dichotomy.  That’s why I’m trying to work with USDA and EPA to add the extended-release application method to the label, and for our industry to register an inexpensive source of OA for us to use.  If our industry were willing to put the effort and money into it, it would be a win all around — effective, safe, and non contaminating varroa control, inexpensive and legal.  I suggest that we put pressure on AHPA and ABF to do so.

Randy Oliver

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