The Bee Informed Partnership, in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America and the United States Department of Agriculture, released its annual report on honey bee losses in the United States based on a national survey of beekeepers. Most significantly, beekeepers reported losing 42.1 percent of the total number of colonies managed over the last year (total annual loss, between April 2014 and April 2015). This represents the second highest annual loss recorded to date.
Preliminary results indicate that during the winter of 2014-2015 U.S. beekeepers lost 23.1 percent of their hives on average, which is lower than average losses in recent years, but considered too high to be sustainable. U.S. beekeepers lost an average of 27.4 percent of their hives in the summer of 2014 (April-October), which is higher than 2013 summer losses.
A large and growing body of science has attributed alarming bee declines in recent years to several key factors, including exposure to the world’s most widely used class of insecticides, neonicotinoids. In 2013, the European Union banned the three most widely used neonicotinoids based on the weight of scientific evidence indicating that these pesticides can kill bees outright and make them more vulnerable to pests, pathogens and other stressors. However, these pesticides are still widely used in the U.S. despite massive bee losses that threaten vital food crops, from almonds in California to apples in Washington.
Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said “These dire honey bee numbers add to the consistent pattern of unsustainable bee losses in recent years that threatens our food system. The science is clear — we must take action now to protect these essential pollinators from bee-toxic pesticides.”
More than 4 million Americans have signed petitions to the Obama administration demanding immediate restrictions on systemic neonicotinoid pesticides linked to bee declines. The White House Task Force on Pollinator Health is expected to release a plan for bee protection in the near future. This plan is required by a Presidential Memorandum, issued by President Obama in June 2014, which called for a federal strategy to protect pollinators and called on the EPA to assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bees and other pollinators within 180 days.
On April 2, the EPA announced a moratorium on new or expanded uses of neonicotinoids while it evaluates the risks posed to pollinators. In October, 2014, the Council on Environmental Quality issued guidance for federal facilities and federal lands which included acquiring seeds and plants from nurseries that do not treat these items with systemic insecticides.
In response to a campaign by Friends of the Earth and allies, more than twenty garden stores, nurseries, and landscaping companies, including Lowe’s (NYSE: LOW) and Home Depot (NYSE: HD), the two largest home improvement retailers in the world, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Whole Foods (NASDAQ: WFM) have taken steps to restrict neonicotinoids in their stores.
Last April, Friends of the Earth released a report, “Follow the Honey: 7 ways pesticide companies are spinning the bee crisis to protect profits,” which documents the deceptive PR tactics used by agrochemical companies including Germany-based Bayer (DE: BAYN), Switzerland-based Syngenta (NYSE: SYT) and U.S.-based Monsanto (NYSE: MON), to deflect blame from their products’ contributions to bee declines and delay regulatory action on neonicotinoid pesticides.
“Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto make billions from bee-killing pesticide products while masquerading as champions of bee health,” Finck-Haynes said. “Are their profits more important than our food supply? Are they more important than the livelihoods of America’s farmers? The Obama administration must act now to restrict neonicotinoid pesticides that threaten America’s bees, farmers and food security.”
A recent study by Newcastle University recommends that reducing pesticide use “may be the only certain” way to halt bee and pollinator decline. A study by Oxford University researchers came to a similar conclusion, documenting that organic agriculture supports 50 percent more pollinator and bee species compared with conventional, pesticide heavy agriculture.
“The solution to the bee crisis is to shift to sustainable agriculture systems that are not dependent on monoculture crops saturated in pesticides. It’s time to reimagine the way we farm in the United States and incentivize organic agriculture practices that are better for bees and for all of us,” Finck-Haynes said.