Protecting Our Pollinators
"Factors Affecting Global Bee Health: Honey Bee Health and Population Losses in Managed Bee Colonies"
House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture public hearing: "To review current research and application of management strategies to control pests and diseases of pollinators"
Protecting Our Pollinators
Pollinators are a vital part of U.S. agriculture and it is estimated that they directly impact 35% of the world's agriculture. Bees are responsible for more than just honey; they pollinate grapes, strawberries, avocados and cucumbers, among many other food crops. Approximately one-third of the crops used to produce foods and beverages are dependent on pollinators, representing nearly $20 billion of crop value in the U.S. each year.
Protecting pollinators is one of the crop protection industry’s top concerns. Many of the products our industry makes contribute to enhancing bee health, such as pesticides that control parasitic mites and products that support increased bee forage.
Pollinator Populations: Survey Shows Improvement in 2014
On May 15, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual survey on bee colony losses, prepared in collaboration with the Bee Informed Partnership and the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA). Survey results show that 23.2 percent of managed honey bee colonies in the U.S. were lost, compared to 30.5 percent losses reported for the 2012/2013 winter. Over an eight-year period, the average total of colony losses reported is 29.6 percent. The 2014 self-reported survey reflects responses from nearly 7,200 beekeepers in the U.S. who collectively manage 21.7 percent of the 2.6 million bee colonies in the country.
Multiple Issues Affect Pollinator Health
In 2013, USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a comprehensive “Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health.” The report summarizes findings from the National Stakeholders Conference held in October 2012, which brought together beekeepers, scientists, representatives of conservation groups, beekeeping supply manufacturers, commodity groups, pesticide manufacturers and government representatives to discuss potential solutions for improving honey bee health. The report identifies the Varroa mite as the “single most detrimental pest of honey bees.”
Additional factors that are found to influence and negatively impact pollinator health include:
- Availability of forage;
- Beekeeping management practices;
- Diseases (Nosema, bacteria and viruses);
- Weather patterns and changing climate;
- Pesticides (when used incorrectly);
- Lack of genetic diversity; and
- Poor health or death of queen bees.
Pollinator Health and the Crop Protection Industry
Recent reports have cited certain crop protection products such as neonicotinoid insecticides as a potential leading cause of bee colony loss. Neonicotinoid insecticides have been used in the United States for many years without significant effects on populations of honey bees. The principal use of neonicotinoids as a seed treatment keeps exposure to pollinators to a minimum, and also reduces potential soil surface and worker exposure. Industry efforts are continually underway to further reduce these small risks.
Ongoing research and field studies have consistently found no adverse effects on colonies when these products are applied in the field according to label directions. In contrast, lab and semi-field studies are often conducted at exaggerated rates that do not mimic the real-world exposure that pollinators face. Recent difficulties for bee hives and beekeepers are likely an unfortunate combination of multiple risk factors including weather, nutrition, disease and parasites.
Protecting and improving honey bee health is a top priority of CLA and its members. CLA supports:
- increased practical research focused on arthropod pests, pathogens, nutrition, pesticides, bee biology, genetics, and breeding;
- activities to increase habitat for honey bees and other pollinators;
- wise stewardship of bee protection and crop protection products; and
- best management practices and training.
- Many of the recent studies that attempt to link neonicotinoid insecticides to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) fail to recreate practical in-field conditions of pollinator exposure to pesticides or pollinator behavior, and ignore the many possible threats that bees face. Scientific literature examining the potential causes of CCD is incredibly varied and will need additional research.
- The Bee Informed Partnership’s 2012 national survey on honey bee losses reported that the most frequently indicated factors attributing to bee death included: colonies weak in the fall; queen failure; starvation; varroa mites; poor wintering conditions; CCD; pesticides; nosema; and small hive beetles.
- There has been no demonstrated, extraordinary negative effect on bee health associated with neonicotinoid-based insecticides, when they are used properly and according to label directions. The allegations of widespread harm to pollinators contradict nearly two decades of responsible use of these important pesticides on many millions of crop acres worldwide.
- When used improperly, pesticides can be harmful to bees. Farmers and ranchers are trained to apply crop protection products strictly according to the label directions. The labels are written under supervision of EPA according to requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). In the process, potential environmental and health hazards are carefully evaluated, and necessary mitigation measures are taken.