It’s Time to Act Quick on Policies That Protect Pollinators


You thought the bee issue went away? Alas, it didn’t. Alarms over the decline of our bee population have been sounding for a number of years, and while awareness of the problem is on the rise, federal action towards protecting our bees is currently lacking. Bees take care of around 80% of pollination around the world and 70% of the crops that supply 90% of our food supply rely on bees. Protecting bees means protecting our ability to eat. Policies that promote and protect pollinators ensure global health.

The latest disappointing news came last week when the EPA announced a delay in the pollinator report asked for back in June by the Presidential Memorandum on a federal pollinator strategy. While the memorandum was a laudable acknowledgement of the problem, many people felt that it didn’t really have any “teeth.” The latest announcement from the EPA seems to further that claim. Friend’s of the Earth (FOE) issued a press release explaining that the federal initiatives need to be enacted as swiftly as possible...

Over the past eight years, beekeepers have lost an average of 30 percent of their hives, and many beekeepers are leaving the industry entirely. The weight of the science tells us that we must take immediate action to suspend systemic bee-killing pesticides before the spring planting season begins. The bees can’t wait, and neither should President Obama.

Many scientists believe that it is a class of systemic pesticides known as neonicotinoids that are responsible for a majority of pollinator deaths. We might expect that continued the continued use of these pesticides is due to their effectiveness. But Tom Philpott of Mother Jones gives a fabulous synopsis of a recent EPA report that assessed the economic benefits of neonicotinoids on soybean farms, which suggests otherwise. Simply put, the report did not find any economic benefit. Philpott explains that continued use of the chemicals, typically in the form of seeds treated with the chemicals bought at a premium, is most likely due in part to agribusiness monopolies on seed sales:

The EPA report has insights: "data from researchers and extension experts ... indicate that some growers currently have some difficulty obtaining untreated seed." The report points to one small poll that found 45 percent of respondents reported finding non-treated seeds "difficult to obtain" or "not available."

It may not be that farmers are choosing to use the chemicals, rather, they may not have the choice to not use them. Federal action banning neonicotinoids would not only immediately reduce pressure on pollinators, it could also increase the bottom line of farmers through access to cheaper seeds.

While we can gripe about the lack of federal action, it is also worth pointing out that some individual government agencies are taking action of their own. Danielle Nierenberg, founder of Food Tank, recently explained that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to phase out their use of neonicotinoids by 2016. This is a small but important win, though Nierenberg is skeptical of some the FWS language:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mark the first of federal agencies to stop using the chemicals by 2016. However, the agency’s claim that ‘appropriate and specialized uses of neonicotinoid pesticides’ on wildlife refuges suggests room for further interpretation.”

We’re on the lookout for more positive stories about federal action against neonicotinoids, and we hope that the politics of big agribusiness will yield to the dire need to promote the health of bee populations everywhere.


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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