May 1, 2014
On April 29, the House Agriculture Committee convened a hearing to discuss challenges facing pollinator populations, with the honey bee as the focal point. Throughout the hearing, the increased incidence of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was discussed, and the current research available to identify causes of the devastating decrease in honey bee populations and economic viability for beekeepers examined. In recent years, the annual reported loss of bee colonies has remained consistent at approximately 30 percent.
The four witnesses invited to to testify at the hearing were: Dr. Jeff Pettis of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agriculture Research Service (ARS), Dan Cummings, CEO of Capay Farms in California, Jeff Stone, CEO of the Oregon Association of Nurseries, and Dr. David Fischer from the Bayer North America Bee Care Center.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Pettis explained that there are many factors contributing to the decline in honey bee populations; not one single factor can be identified as solely responsible. According to ARS, the top three contributing factors are the harmful honey bee parasite, the Verroa Mite, declining biodiversity in forage crops for bee pollen, and the overuse of pesticides. All panelists echoed the same three concerns, although some placed more emphasis on one or another.
For example, witness Jeff Stone shared an anecdote concerning a situation that occurred in Oregon where a misapplication of a pesticide on a flowering tree led to the direct fatality of 500,000 honey bees. He explained that after the incident was reported the particular pesticide in question was banned, which had the unintended consequence of compelling growers to use alternative pesticides that required a heavier application and that contained increased toxicity levels to humans. He stressed the deleterious affects that pesticides can have on honey bees when used improperly or in an overabundance.
Dan Cummings, CEO of Capay Farms and Olivarez Honey Bees spoke about the immense dependance that the almond industry has on honey bee pollination. Currently, eighty percent of the worlds almond supply is grown in California, and two thirds of all honey bees raised in the United States are required for successful pollination of the almond crop. Mr. Cummings identified the lack of bee forage as the most critical challenge and pointed to land conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) as a potential remedy.
After the witnesses were questioned by representatives, the consensus in the room was that there is a significant body of research explaining the challenges that bees and other pollinators face, but there is less in the way of solutions. Some Representatives asked whether Congress should be involved at all with this issue. The overwhelming response from witnesses was that Congress does have a role in finding a solution, and that continued federal support and funding should be targeted towards research, education and strengthening conservation programs that encourage cover cropping and other methods of increasing pollinator habitat.
In advance of the hearing, Friends of the Earth issued a report (Follow the Honey) by Michelle Simon exploring the public relations campaign being waged by pesticide companies to divert attention from the role of neonicotinoid pesticides on pollinator health. The report recommends passage of the Saving America’s Pollinators Act (H.R. 2692), introduced by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a bill which would suspend the use of neonicotinoids on certain crops until EPA reviews available data and conducts field studies.