Europe and America appear to be taking decidedly different approaches to honeybee colony collapse.
The European Union just adopted continent-wide restrictions against the neonicotinoid class of insecticides called out by the European Food Safety Authority as especially damaging to bees. In the U.S., however, a newly released comprehensive scientific report on honey bee health says multiple factors are contributing to colony decline, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.
“There is an important link between the health of American agriculture and our honeybees for our country’s long term agriculture productivity,” said USDA’s Kathleen Merrigan. “The forces impacting honeybee health are complex and USDA, our research partners, and key stakeholders will be engaged in addressing this challenge.”
Merrigan’s comments came on her last day as USDA Deputy Secretary.
Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said the joint report shows significant progress is being made to return honeybee colonies to health, but more work needs to be done. He said the problem is complex involving “a combination of stressors.”
And this week, USDA released its findings of the damage done to honeybee colonies during the winter of 2012-13, finding a decline of 31 percent or about 800,000 colonies.
It marks another year that U.S. bee populations have experienced a mass kill off. USDA estimates are that there are $20 billion in annual harvests relying upon bee pollination. Decline during the previous winter of 2011-12 was 22 percent.
Scientists on both sides of the Atlantic have been investigating the mysterious collapse of honeybee colonies for most of the last decade. It’s been a difficult phenomenon to track because whatever the name might imply, bees are not dying in the hives, but simply flying away and not returning.
Since the EFDA report was issued early in 2013, support for a ban on the bee-harming pesticides have grown and 15 of the EU’s 27 member nations voted to remove the so-called “neonics” from the market.
Because the EU vote fell short of a “qualified majority,” the decision on whether to go through with the ban was left up to the European Commission. Tony Borg, the Health and Consumer commissioner, pledged his “utmost” to protect the bees.
The campaign to ban “neonics” pesticide is not limited to Europe. Beyond Pesticides, the Pesticide Action Network North America, and the Center for Food Safety have petitioned EPA to request the bee-harming pesticides be removed from the market.
With the new EPA-USDA report, a ban on those pesticides in the U.S. seems less likely.
A turning point for a U.S. approach to the honeybee problem may have come last year with the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health at Pennsylvania State University gained consensus among researchers and managers involved not to accept a single-cause theory to the problem.
Instead it called for more research and supported the Colony Collapse Disorder Steering Committee to develop an action plan with five and ten year priorities. It foresees collaborative efforts involving farmers, beekeepers, researchers, federal researchers, and the public.
The EU ban on the pesticides known as neonicotinoids will last for two years.© Food Safety News