Thursday, May 02, 2013

EPA-USDA Scientific Report On Honey Bee Health

May 2: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. EPA released a comprehensive scientific report on honey bee health. The report states that there are multiple factors playing a role in honey bee colony declines, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure. The agencies said, "the report represents the consensus of the scientific community studying honey bees."
    Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said, "There is an important link between the health of American agriculture and the health of our honeybees for our country's long term agricultural productivity. The forces impacting honeybee health are complex and USDA, our research partners, and key stakeholders will be engaged in addressing this challenge." Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said, "The decline in honey bee health is a complex problem caused by a combination of stressors, and at EPA we are committed to continuing our work with USDA, researchers, beekeepers, growers and the public to address this challenge. 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."

    In October 2012, a National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health, led by Federal researchers and managers, along with Pennsylvania State University, was convened to synthesize the current state of knowledge regarding the primary factors that scientists believe have the greatest impact on managed bee health. Key findings include:
  • Parasites and Disease Present Risks to Honey Bees: The parasitic Varroa mite is recognized as the major factor underlying colony loss in the U.S. and other countries. There is widespread resistance to the chemicals beekeepers use to control mites within the hive. New virus species have been found in the U.S. and several of these have been associated with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
  • Increased Genetic Diversity is Needed: (1) U.S. honeybee colonies need increased genetic diversity. Genetic variation improves bees thermoregulation (the ability to keep body temperature steady even if the surrounding environment is different), disease resistance and worker productivity. (2) Honey bee breeding should emphasize traits such as hygienic behavior that confer improved resistance to Varroa mites and diseases (such as American foulbrood).
  • Poor Nutrition Among Honey Bee Colonies: (1) Nutrition has a major impact on individual bee and colony longevity. A nutrition-poor diet can make bees more susceptible to harm from disease and parasites. Bees need better forage and a variety of plants to support colony health. (2) Federal and state partners should consider actions affecting land management to maximize available nutritional forage to promote and enhance good bee health and to protect bees by keeping them away from pesticide-treated fields.
  • There is a Need for Improved Collaboration and Information Sharing: (1) Best Management Practices associated with bees and pesticide use, exist, but are not widely or systematically followed by members of the crop-producing industry. There is a need for informed and coordinated communication between growers and beekeepers and effective collaboration between stakeholders on practices to protect bees from pesticides. (2) Beekeepers emphasized the need for accurate and timely bee kill incident reporting, monitoring, and enforcement.
  • Additional Research is Needed to Determine Risks Presented by Pesticides: The most pressing pesticide research questions relate to determining actual pesticide exposures and effects of pesticides to bees in the field and the potential for impacts on bee health and productivity of whole honey bee colonies.
    Those involved in developing the report include USDA's Office of Pest Management Policy (OPMP), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Agricultural Research Services (ARS), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), National Resource Conversation Service (NRCS) as well as the EPA and Pennsylvania State University. The agencies indicated that the report will provide important input to the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) Steering Committee, led by the USDA, EPA and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

    The agencies indicated in a release that 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. A decline in managed bee colonies puts great pressure on the sectors of agriculture reliant on commercial pollination services. This is evident from reports of shortages of bees available for the pollination of many crops. The Colony Collapse Steering Committee was formed in response to a sudden and widespread disappearance of adult honey bees from beehives, which first occurred in 2006. The Committee will consider the report's recommendations and update the CCD Action Plan which will outline major priorities to be addressed in the next 5-10 years and serve as a reference document for policy makers, legislators and the public and will help coordinate the Federal strategy in response to honey bee losses.
    Bob Stallman, President, American Farm Bureau  (AFB) issued a statement on the report saying, "The Agriculture Department/Environmental Protection Agency report issued today concludes what farmers and scientists have known for some time -- that there isn't just one cause to the decline in honey bee numbers. It's a multitude of factors, which makes it even more important that we continue work on a solution through collaborative efforts among farmers, beekeepers, researchers, the federal government and the public. The good health of the honey bee is extremely important to American agriculture. Many farmers and ranchers require honey bees and other pollinators to produce a healthy, bountiful crop. Farm Bureau supports funding for research to find real answers to the Colony Collapse Disorder, as well as practical, effective methods to remedy the situation."
    In a blog posting, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said the report, ". . . finds that pesticides may be part of the problem, including both the pyrethroid and neonicotinoid classes of pesticides. Both of these classes of pesticides were developed and promoted as reduced-risk replacements for the war-era organophosphate pesticides that were not only deadly to bees and other wildlife, but also highly toxic to people. However, emerging science is proving that these replacement chemicals pose significant risks of harm to bees and beneficial insects, and therefore ultimately to agriculture and our ability to grow our own food. Unfortunately, the USDA/EPA report recommendations are mainly limited to recommendations about best management practices and technical advancements for applying pesticides to reduce dust, etc. The report is conspicuously silent on reducing the overall use of bee-killing pesticides, that is, on recommendations that would reduce the overall sales and profits for chemical makers."
    On March 21, 2013, a coalition of four beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against U.S. EPA for its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides. The pesticides involved -- clothianidin and thiamethoxam -- are "neonicotinoids," a newer class of systemic insecticides that are absorbed by plants and transported throughout the plant's vascular tissue, making the plant potentially toxic to insects. The coalition, represented by attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), is seeking suspension of the registrations of insecticides which they say "have repeatedly been identified as highly toxic to honey bees, clear causes of major bee kills and significant contributors to the devastating ongoing mortality of bees known as colony collapse disorder (CCD)" [See WIMS 4/4/07]. The suit challenges EPA's ongoing handling of the pesticides as well as the agency's practice of "conditional registration" and labeling deficiencies [See WIMS 3/21/13].
    On the issue of neonicotinoids, the EPA-USDA report indicates, "Pesticide exposure to pollinators continues to be an area of research and concern, particularly the systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids. Despite concerns regarding the potential hazard that systemic pesticides may represent to honey bee colonies, when pesticides are viewed in the aggregate at the national level, the frequency and quantity of residues of pyrethroids coupled with the toxicity of these insecticides to bees could pose a 3-fold greater hazard to the colony than the systemic neonicotinoids." 
    Access a release from the agencies (click here). Access the complete 72-page report (click here). Access the AFB statement (click here). Access the NRDC blog posting (click here). [#Agriculture, #Wildlife, #Toxics]