EPA approves bee-killing pesticide use as populations of the insect crater
Thursday, July 18, 2019
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in June approved the use of a bee-killing pesticide, and, more recently, the White House said it would stop collecting data on declining honey bee populations. Those who follow such developments say this move could make tracking the effects of the chemicals on bees impossible.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said budget cuts were to blame for the program change when it announced that it would indefinitely suspend data collection for its Honey Bee Colonies report, which has been compiled annually since 2015.
These bee reports have been designed to help scientists and farmers assess the decline of honey bees, which are responsible for pollinating one in every three bites of food taken by humans. The number of honey bee hives in the U.S. dropped from about six million in 1947 to 2.4 million a decade ago. Beekeepers reported in 2018 that 40% of honey bee hives had collapsed because of a combination of factors, including pesticide use.
Scientists say continuously monitoring the health of honey bee hives in vital to understanding why and how they are in decline. Likewise, researchers say they must continue to mitigate any negative effects on bees before there are any problems with crop management and food production.
Honey bees pollinate flowers, fruits and vegetables, and support about $20 billion worth of crop production in the U.S. annually, Matthew Mulica, senior project manager at the Keystone Policy Center, a consulting company that works with the Honey Bee Health Coalition, told ABC News.
Worldwide, honey bees and other pollinators help produce about $170 billion in crops.
Between Oct. 1, 2018, and April 1, 2019, more than 37% of the managed honey bee population -- colonies kept by commercial beekeepers — declined, 7 percentage points lower than the same time frame during the winter of 2017-18, data from the Bee Informed Partnership, a nonprofit associated with the University of Maryland, pointed out.
The current losses to bee colonies is unsustainable for food production, scientists predict. The EPA action to allow insecticide that kills bees will add to the current crater, they say. Much of the produce seen in grocery stores — watermelon, apples, peppers, cucumbers — and nuts are pollinated by honey bees managed by commercial beekeepers.
These U.S. crops are produced with the help of 2.6 million colonies transported from place to place during peak flowering. Of the $20 billion worth of U.S. crop production supported by pollinators, commercial honey bees are responsible for about half. Wild bees and other pollinators pollinate the rest.
However, despite chemical-related death, the largest contributor to the decline of bee health is the varroa mite, a parasite that invades hives and spreads diseases. Other reasons for the loss in population are loss of habitat and poor management practices. Incidental exposure to pesticides, pests and other diseases within the hive also affect bee populations, ABC News reports.
Despite the population devastation, honey bees are not currently under threat of extinction. But as their populations decline, they will become costlier to manage and for farmers to procure, which can impact the price of food.
Researchers continue to examine which pesticides can potentially be replaced with chemicals that are more bee-friendly, and what changes can be made to habitats to encourage more bees, such as planting wildflowers instead of green grass in the front yard and encouraging homeowners to mow their lawns less often.
"The decision to suspend data collection was not made lightly, but was necessary given available fiscal and program resources," a July 1 statement from the USDA read.
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