What the Bees Need … But White House Bee Decree Falls Short


Last week the Obama administration created a federal strategy to help save the bees, but many groups feel that it is not enough. Making an economic argument for the enormous value of bees, the White House memorandum states:

Pollinators contribute substantially to the economy of the United States and are vital to keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States. Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.

The memorandum establishes a task force to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, with efforts to  figure out what is causing bee deaths, educate the public, increase pollinator habitat and do a number of other things. Proposed budget? $50 million for the next year.

It’s a laudable first step in protecting the insects that sustain our food, but the strategy falls short, according to many environmental groups.   Populations of bees, Monarch butterflies and other pollinators like bats,have been on the decline over the last twenty years and many people believe that this is due, in large part to pesticides. In the case of bees, a class called neonicotinoids (neonics) are the culprit. Beyond Pesticides, criticizes current EPA initiatives and the the strategy:

While EPA announced Friday that it has released two tools in an effort to protect pollinators, the availability of its new Pollinator Risk Assessment Guidance, and new Residual Time to 25 Percent Bee Mortality (RT25 Data), the agency still falls short of restricting the harmful systemic pesticides that are linked to bee decline.

Center for Food Safety similarly applauds the effort, but is calling for the EPA to do more:

A large component of the White House memorandum focuses on creating pollinator habitat; however, the administration does direct EPA to assess the impacts of neonicotinoids on pollinators within 180 days and calls for the agency to take action where appropriate. Center for Food Safety agrees that assessment alone is insufficient and calls for immediate action. There is already a wealth of peer reviewed literature demonstrating the harms of pesticides to bees and other pollinators.

 And, as if to make the call for action against neonics all the more clear, The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides has just released its World Integrated Assessment; a massive meta-analysis of 800 scientific studies in the last five years on the effects of neonics. The evidence is all too clear on the damage that neonics can cause. Friends of the Earth gives a great synopsis of the report highlighting some key voices in the anti-neonic movement:

Helen  Browning,  Director  of  the  Soil  Association,  a  member  of  the  Bee  Coalition  said;  "This  overwhelming scientific  evidence  of  the  dangers  of  neonicotinoids  follows  a  pattern.  Classes  of  pesticides,  previously claimed to  be  safe,  are  being  found  to  be  dangerous  and  subsequently  banned.  Farming  urgently  needs  to  learn the  lessons  of  organic  farmers,  in  the  way  they  succeed  to  manage  pests  and  benefit  wildlife  without  the use  of  dangerous  pesticides"

A bill already sits in Congress which would take neonics off of the market until a full review is finished : H.R. 2692, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA). If you want to bee more active in protecting the priceless resource of honey bees, and getting neonicotinoids out of our soils, then check out these two petitions to Congress from Center for Food Safety and Beyond Pesticides. Make your voice heard!

PHOTO: Beekeeper holding a handful of dead bees, Creative Commons


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson 

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