Politics and Bees “National Pollinator Health Strategy”

National Pollinator Health Strategy was developed to help protect bees.

Last week President Obama established a task force that will research and investigate strategies in attempt to stop the alarming decline of honeybees and other pollinators. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are among 14 other government agencies that have been tasked to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy within 180 days. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy will co-chair a new Pollinator Health Task Force to focus federal efforts to conduct research and take action to help pollinators recover from population losses. This includes a public education campaign to teach people ways that they can help pollinators in their own homes or businesses.

This federal strategy will include a pollinator research action plan, with a focus on preventing and recovering from pollinator losses, including stressors like pesticides, pathogens and management practices that contribute to pollinator losses.

If you live in fear of bee stings, imagine the collapse of the world’s food supply.

Also last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), announced $8 million in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) incentives for Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin farmers and ranchers who establish new habitats for declining honey bee populations. More than half of the commercially managed honey bees are in these five states during the summer. This comes in addition to $3 million USDA designated to the Midwest states to support bee populations earlier this year through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

“American agricultural production relies on having a healthy honey bee population,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “In recent years, factors such as diseases, parasites, pesticides or habitat loss have contributed to a significant decline in the honey bee population. This $8 million is part of the Administration’s ongoing strategy to reverse these trends and establish more plant habitat on Conservation Reserve Program lands to restore the bee population.”

Incidentally, the EPA (part of the National Pollinator Health Strategy)  fell short of restricting harmful systemic pesticides that are linked to bee decline. A class of pesticides called Neonicotinoids. Similar to nicotine, they are a systemic class of neuro-active insecticides. Neonicotinoids can make it into your garden through seed coating or by spraying the plant. Ultimately neonics are distributed through the plant tissue. Any pollinator is in danger when in contact with the poisonous plant material.

In a release published on the EPA website: “The EPA is not currently banning or severely restricting the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides. The neonicotinoid pesticides are currently being re-evaluated through registration review, the EPA’s periodic re-evaluation of registered pesticides to ensure they meet current health and safety standards. The EPA bases its pesticide regulatory decisions on the entire body of scientific literature, including studies submitted by the registrant, journal articles, and other sources of peer-reviewed data.” Perhaps they missed the results of this Harvard study or these study results from a couple of years ago.

Last year, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, and others filed a lawsuit against the EPA on its continued registration of these chemicals. These groups are also working to pressure lawmakers in Congress to take action to protect pollinators.

In Europe, neonicotinoids have been banned from outdoor use, as the risk to pollinators was found to outweigh the benefits.

Thus far the study acknowledges there is no “one thing” causing the current loss of bee populations. There are several factors that must be researched further:

  • Stressors, including poor bee nutrition
  • Loss of forage lands
  • Parasites
  • Pathogens
  • Lack of genetic diversity
  • Exposure to pesticides
  • Colony Management Practices

Now let’s take a look at Honey Bee Facts:

  • Honey bees pollinate fruit, nuts and vegetables
  • Globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops are pollinator dependent
  • Pollination is critical to our food supply
  • Honey bees have declined sharply due to pesticides, mites and other factors
  • In California, the almond industry is at risk because it relies on bees for pollination
  • Bees boost the economy by $15 billion

While there was no mention of climate change in any of the documents that I read, I would hope that the National Pollinator Health Strategy research will study how climate change impacts pollinators. In addition, a previous White House budget pushed for $50 million for multiple agencies to help boost research, increase the number of acres dedicated to pollinators’ conservation programs and boost funding for research on pollinator losses.

My take:

  • Government=Politics
  • Do something within this effort that will actually yield results and not pure politics. Put this research and set of tasks in the hands of the people across the US that are already enmeshed in and trying to solve the complex problems for the last number of years.
  • Much more than 180 days are needed to do this research. The current pollinator research study at University of Maryland yields results in no less than 6 months.
  • According to The Center for Food Safety, “There is already a wealth of peer reviewed literature demonstrating the harms of pesticides to bees and other pollinators.” Let’s put it to good use.
  • Involve the many Colleges and Universities and laboratories across our country that are already deeply involved in and already have invested years of research into the honey bee mystery. 
  • Create a genuine “third-party think tank” to include colleges and universities, research scientists inside and outside of the government who are immune to outside grants or sponsorships from any of the chemical companies to do research that cannot be impacted by big business or politics.

Sources:
White House
USDA
The Guardian
The New York Times
We know pesticides are killing bees.
USDA hopes to expand honey bee habitats in Wisconsin – http://bit.ly/1rM0oyL
A well-done piece on Scientists behaving badly. http://bit.ly/1mbA2Fi 
Friends of the Earth Plant Material Study results “Gardners Beware