Economics for the Earth Blog

Bee losses highlight urgent need to restrict pesticides, shift to sustainable agriculture

Posted May. 15, 2014 / Posted by: Kate Colwell

Washington, D.C. – Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual report on honey bee losses in the United States based on a national survey of beekeepers conducted with the Bee Informed Partnership. During the winter of 2013-2014, U.S. beekeepers lost 23.2 percent of their hives on average, which is lower than average losses in recent years, but considered too high to be sustainable. Preliminary results indicate that the number of summer bee losses (April-October) significantly increased from 12.5 percent in 2012 to 20 percent in 2013.

Scientists have attributed alarming bee declines in recent years to several key factors, including exposure to the world’s most widely used class of pesticides, neonicotinoids. A recent study by Harvard School of Public Health identifies neonicotinoid pesticides as “likely the main culprit” in Colony Collapse Disorder and adds to the strong body of evidence implicating these pesticides as a key contributing factor to bee declines.

“These dire honey bee numbers add to a consistent pattern of unsustainable bee losses in recent years. When combined with steep declines in wild pollinators, they point to the urgent need for action,” said Lisa Archer, director of Friends of the Earth’s Food and technology program. “Bees are the canary in the coal mine for our food system. While various factors are contributing to bee deaths, a strong and growing body of science tells us we must take action now to protect bees from neonicotinoid pesticides.”

In 2013, 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.

A recent report by Friends of the Earth and author Michele Simon uncovers the deceptive tobacco industry-style public relations tactics chemical companies Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto are using to manufacture doubt about their contributions to bee declines and to delay regulatory action on neonicotinoid pesticides.

“Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto make billions from bee-killing pesticide products while masquerading as champions of bee health,” Archer said. “Are their profits more important than our food supply? Are they more important than the livelihoods of America’s farmers? Congress must act now to restrict neonicotinoid pesticides that threaten America’s farmers and our food security.”

In 2013, U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the “Saving America’s Pollinators Act,” which seeks to suspend the use of neonicotinoids on bee-attractive plants until EPA reviews all of the available data, including field studies.

A new meta study by Oxford University researchers documents how 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, local, sustainable agriculture practices that are better for bees and for all of us,” Archer said.

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Expert Contact:
Lisa Archer, Food and technology program director, (510) 978-3145, larcher@foe.org
Communications Contact:
Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org
Stacy Malkan, (510) 848-5701, stacydmalkan@gmail.com

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