Wednesday, April 04, 2007

House Investigates Honey Bee Colony Declines

Mar 29: Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, held a hearing to investigate colony collapse disorder in honey bee colonies across the United States. The so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is characterized by the sudden die-off of honey bee colonies. The cause of CCD has not been determined, and the Subcommittee heard about the situation and its impact on agriculture from scientists and bee keepers, as well as a farmer who relies on bees to pollinate his crops.

Cardoza said, “I am deeply committed to raising awareness of CCD and its impact on American agriculture. Farmers and beekeepers across the country are dependent on honey bees for their livelihoods. It is imperative that we move swiftly to get to the bottom of this, before the problem becomes even more serious. The insight and perspectives we heard in today’s hearing will be very useful as we consider the next steps in addressing this threat to honey bees, and to the livelihoods of commercial beekeepers and crop producers.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) said, “Honey bee pollination is vital to flowers and many fruit, vegetable, nut and forage crops, as well as forages and flowers. In addition, pollination from honey bees increases yield and food quality and creates billions of dollars of crop value for farmers. Agriculture has a strong interest in maintaining a sound supply of pollinators, and I encourage researchers to work closely with producers to find a solution to the current colony collapse."

A March 27, Congressional Research Services (CRS) report on the subject examines the recent sharp decline in U.S. honey bee colonies or CCD. The phenomenon first became apparent among commercial migratory beekeepers along the East Coast during the last few months of 2006, and has since been reported nationwide. Honey bees are the most economically valuable pollinators of agricultural crops worldwide. Many scientists at universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) frequently assert that bee pollination is involved in about one-third of the U.S. diet, and contributes to the production of a wide range of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, forage crops, some field crops, and other specialty crops. The monetary value of honey bees as commercial pollinators in the United States is estimated at about $15 billion annually.

CRS indicates that honey bee colony losses are not uncommon. However, current losses seem to differ from past situations in that: colony losses are occurring mostly because bees are failing to return to the hive (which is largely uncharacteristic of bee behavior); bee colony losses have been rapid; colony losses are occurring in large numbers; and, the reason why these losses are occurring remains still largely unknown.

At the Subcommittee hearing it was indicated that a unique aspect of CCD is that there is a significant delay in robbing of the dead colony by bees from other colonies or invasion by pest insects such as waxworm moths or small hive beetles; this suggests the presence of a deterrent chemical or toxin in the hive. It was indicated that researchers have found have found species like Aspergillus and Mucor among the fungi in CCD colonies. These fungi were previously reported to be bee pathogens in the 1930’s and are associated with toxin production; however, since that time, the fungi have been rarely of concern in bee colonies.

The CRS report indicates that another possible causes of CCD being examined, one that has become the subject of debate is whether certain chemicals or combinations of chemicals could be contributing to CCD, including some pesticides and possibly some fungicides. One class of insecticide being studied are neonicotinoids, which contain the active ingredient imidacloprid, and similar other chemicals, such as clothianidin and thiamethoxam. Honey bees are thought possibly to be affected by such chemicals, which are known to work their way through the plant up into the flowers and leave residues in the nectar and pollen.

Access a release from Representative Cardoza (click here). Access a listing of witnesses and links to testimony (click here, See March 29). Access the CRS report (click here). [*Wildlife]