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Federal Report Cites Several Factors For Bee Decline

Following closely behind regulatory action on bee health in the EU, two federal agencies take a look at bee populations and what might be causing an overall decline

Published on: May 3, 2013

The USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday released the results of a scientific report on honeybee health, finding that a multitude of factors are linked to a honeybee population decline, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and potential pesticide exposure.

Bob Perciasepe, acting EPA administrator, said Thursday the combination of stressors that bees are experiencing is a "complex problem" and will require continued research to fully understand.

"The report we've released today is the product of unprecedented collaboration, and our work in concert must continue. As the report makes clear, we've made significant progress, but there is still much work to be done to protect the honey bee population," Perciasepe said.

Following closely behind regulatory action on bee health in the EU, two federal agencies take a look at bee populations and what might be causing an overall decline
Following closely behind regulatory action on bee health in the EU, two federal agencies take a look at bee populations and what might be causing an overall decline

USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan added that bee health is a critical component of the pollination process in agriculture, and represents an important part of long-term productivity.

According to the USDA and EPA, an estimated one-third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination, mainly by honey bees. In the United States, pollination contributes to crop production worth $20-30 billion in agricultural production annually.

The report concludes that there are several ways to tackle the issue thorough continued research and a good look at potential causes for decline. Recommendations of the report include a focus on:

…Parasites. The parasitic Varroa mite is a major factor in colony loss. The EPA said there is widespread resistance to the chemicals beekeepers use to control mites within the hive, and new species of the mite have been identified.

…Genetic Diversity. EPA and USDA researchers found that greater genetic diversity is needed to improve the way bees handle temperature variation. Inability to thermoregulate, the study found, is the cause of decreased productivity. Additionally, breeding should emphasize traits that are resistant to pests, such as the Varroa mite.

…Poor Nutrition. Bees require improved forage and a variety of plants to support colony health. The study recommends that federal and state partners consider actions affecting land management to maximize available forage and keep bees away from pesticide treated fields.

…Need for Greater Research and Collaboration. The study recommends that the crop-producing industry follows best management practices in regards to bee health and both growers and beekeepers improve communication. Further, the study recommended timely reporting of bee kill incidents, and noted that additional research should look at pesticide exposure and any potential impact that could have on colonies.

Discussion about bee health has been ongoing across many industries for the past several years. In the latest report, EPA and USDA say there is inconclusive evidence to identify one cause for population decline, while groups such as the Pesticide Action Network in North America and Avaaz in Europe maintain that pesticides are the main cause.

Just Tuesday, the European Commission approved a temporary ban on three commonly used pesticides following a European Food Safety Authority Report that linked the pesticides to bee population declines. The pesticides include the neonicotinoids clothianidin, thiametoxam and imidacloprid. The decision was deferred to the EC after EU member states could not reach a majority vote on the issue.

In the U.S., 27 petitioners comprised of beekeepers and several pesticide action groups in 2012 requested emergency suspension of clothianidin, however, EPA concluded that the petition did not demonstrate that the pesticide posed an imminent hazard to bees.

As noted in Thursday's report, public and private research on the issue will continue. Bayer CropScience and Syngenta have taken steps in Europe and the U.S. to address population decline and bee health. Bayer's Bee Care Program, which kicked off this spring, is aimed at improving collaboration between beekeepers and crop producers, with two dedicated Bee Care Centers planned for Monheim, Germany, and North Carolina.

Further, the Colony Collapse Steering Committee, led by the USDA, EPA and the National Agricultural Statistics Service, will continue to review the report's recommendations and update the CCD Action Plan. The plan will outline major priorities to be addressed in the next 5-10 years, the agencies said, and will serve as a reference document for policy makers, legislators and the public.

The USDA and EPA said this plan will also help coordinate federal strategy for honeybee population preservation moving forward.

To view the report, which USDA and EPA said represents the consensus of the scientific community studying honey bees, click here.