Insect pollination is critical to agriculture, with ninety or more U.S. crops dependent on insect pollination. Economically, honey bees contribute more than an estimated $15 billion to the agricultural economy. That is a significant reason why, in recent years, honey bee health has gotten increasing attention. Colony collapse disorder captured great attention when it was first noted in 2006 but EPA itself states that “reported cases of CCD have declined substantially over the last five years.” The National Academy of Sciences has underscored that there are multiple threats to bees, including parasites, pathogens, pesticide exposure, habitat loss, and others, the varroa mite being perhaps the most significant.
Developments over the last two decades have drawn increased attention to the health of managed honey bees and how it can be affected by pesticide use. Some activists have used reported honey bee declines to single out pesticides (in particular a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids) as the principal cause of the decline in honey bees. They have called on the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict neonicotinoids or ban them outright. A bill pending in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1284), would require EPA to suspend the registration of certain neonicotinoid pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. In May 2015, the President’s Pollinator Health Task Force, co-chaired by USDA and EPA, issued its final report that contained three principal recommendations: (1) reduce overwintering losses of managed honey bees to no more than 15 percent in ten years; (2) increase the population of the Eastern monarch butterfly to 225 million by the year 2020; and (3) restore or enhance 7 million acres of pollinator habitat over the next five years. The report also included actions EPA may undertake on neonicotinoid pesticides.
While the causes of honey bee decline have not been conclusively identified, it is clear that many factors beyond pesticides are involved. A wide range of stakeholders—beekeepers, federal and state regulators, farmers and ranchers, agricultural producers, academic researchers—are all engaged in the effort to identify the causes of honey bee decline and to find a solution.
AFBF supports the responsible use of pesticides and opposes a ban on neonicotinoids. We support the development of state-based pollinator plans and adherence to EPA pesticide labels in the application of pesticides. Cooperative, constructive efforts among federal and state regulators, beekeepers, farmers and ranchers, coupled with ongoing research by USDA, offers the most promising means of finding an answer to this problem.