Tag Archives: bees

Survey: Major U.S. food retailers flunk out on pesticide test

Of the top U.S. food retailers, 17 have received an “F” for failing to have a publicly available policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use to protect pollinators.

Aldi, Costco (COST) and Whole Foods (WFM) received passing grades in this category, according to a report and scorecard released this week that looks at policies and practices regarding pollinator protection, organic offerings and pesticide reduction.

“U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth environmental group. “The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. We urge all major retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and to expand domestic organic offerings that protect pollinators, people and the planet.”

The report, “Swarming the Aisles: Rating top retailers on bee-friendly and organic food,” comes amid consumer pressure on food retailers to adopt more environmentally-friendly sourcing policies.

A coalition led by Friends of the Earth and more than 50 farmer, beekeeper, farmworker, environmental and public interest organizations sent a letter urging food retailers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and increase USDA certified organic food and beverages to 15 percent of overall offerings by 2025, prioritizing domestic, regional and local producers.

This effort follows a campaign that convinced more than 65 garden retailers, including Lowe’s and Home Depot, to commit to eliminate bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bees and other pollinators are essential for one in three bites of food consumed in the United States. Without pollinators, grocery stores would run short of strawberries, almonds, apples, broccoli and more.

A growing body of science points to the world’s most widely-used insecticides, neonicotinoids, as a leading factor in pollinator declines, and glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide worldwide, as a key culprit in monarch butterfly declines.

New data from a YouGov Poll released today by Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs found that 80 percent of Americans believe it is important to eliminate neonicotinoids from agriculture.

Among Americans who grocery shop for their household, 65 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that has formally committed to eliminating neonicotinoids.

The poll also revealed that 59 percent of American grocery shoppers believe it is important for grocery stores to sell organic food, and 43 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that sells more organic food than their current grocery store.

“Over 750,000 SumOfUs members have spoken out advocating that U.S. Hardware stores take action to protect our pollinators. And after years of pressure, Home Depot and Lowe’s have finally enacted more bee-friendly policies,” said Angus Wong, lead campaign strategist at SumOfUs, a consumer watchdog group. “And the findings of this poll show that a vast majority of consumers want to eliminate neonicotinoids from their grocery stores too. This is why food retailers must commit policies that protect our bees immediately.”

The report found that while consumer demand for organic and pesticide-free food continues to show double-digit growth only four of the top food retailers — Albertsons, Costco, Target (TGT) and Whole Foods — have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food  or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.

In addition to these retailers, Aldi, Food Lion, part of the Delhaize Group (DEG) and Kroger (KR) disclosed data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.

None of the retailers have made a publicly available commitment to source organic from American farmers.

“To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture,” said Dr. Kendra Klein, staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. “Organic farms support 50 percent more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production — farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic.”

Sixteen of the top 20 food retailers were predominately unresponsive to requests for information via surveys, calls and letters.

Primary sources of information for this scorecard include publicly available information, including company websites, company annual reports, SEC filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage and industry analyses.

On the Web

The reportSwarming the Aisles: Rating top retailers on bee-friendly and organic food, survey results, tips for consumers and letters to retailers can be found at www.foe.org/beeaction.

7 Hawaii bee species listed as endangered, a 1st in U.S.

Federal authorities have added seven yellow-faced bee species — Hawaii’s only native bees — for protection under the Endangered Species Act. This is a first for any bees in the United States.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the listing after years of study by the conservation group Xerces Society, state government officials and independent researchers.

The Xerces Society says its goal is to protect nature’s pollinators and invertebrates, which play a vital role in the health of the overall ecosystem.

The nonprofit organization was involved in the initial petitions to protect the bee species, said Sarina Jepson, director of endangered species and aquatic programs for the Portland, Oregon-based group.

Jepson said yellow-faced bees can be found elsewhere in the world, but these particular species are native only to Hawaii and pollinate plant species indigenous to the islands.

The bees face a variety of threats including “feral pigs, invasive ants, loss of native habitat due to invasive plants, fire, as well as development, especially in some for the coastal areas,” Jepson told The Associated Press.

The bees can be found in a wide variety of habitats in Hawaii, from coastal environments to high-elevation shrub lands, she said. The yellow-faced bees pollinate some of Hawaii’s endangered native plant species. While other bees could potentially pollinate those species, many could become extinct if these bees were to die off entirely.

Hawaii-based entomologist Karl Magnacca worked with Xerces on much of the initial research. It has taken almost 10 years to get to this point, he told the AP. “It’s good to see it to finally come to fruition,” he said.

The bees “tend to favor the more dominant trees and shrubs we have here,” he said. “People tend to focus on the rare plants, and those are important, that’s a big part of the diversity. But the other side is maintaining the common ones as common. (The bees) help maintain the structure of the whole forest.”

Magnacca added that there are a lot more rare insects that deserve protection. “It may not necessarily be appropriate to list them as endangered, but we have this huge diversity that we need to work on and protect here in Hawaii,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done.”

The bees are critical for maintaining the health of plants and other animals across the islands, said Gregory Koob, conservation and restoration team manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu.

There is no designated critical habitat attached to the listing, he said, but the protection will allow authorities to implement recovery programs, access funding and limit their harm from outside sources. All federal agencies must consult with the Fish and Wildlife service when interacting with endangered species.

“As an animal, it can’t be taken or harmed or killed by individuals,” Koob said. “Any research that is done needs a permit from Fish and Wildlife Service unless it’s done by a state agency.”

Koob said that if the bees were removed from ecosystem, the plants that they pollinate would likely not survive.

“Those plants are not only food and nesting habitat for the bees, but they also provide habitat for other animals,” he said. “It’s the web of life.”

Friday’s listing finalized the protection of 10 animal species in Hawaii, the seven bees along with the band-rumped storm-petrel, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly and the anchialine pool shrimp. It also added 39 species of plants native to Hawaii.

The rusty-patched bumble bee, found widely across the continental United States, is also being considered for protection.

On the Web

Documents from FWS.

Minnesota’s model: State sets broadest limits on chemicals blamed for bee declines

The governor of Minnesota has ordered the broadest restrictions yet in a U.S. state on the use of agricultural pesticides that have been blamed for hurting bees.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order that requires farmers to verify that they face “an imminent threat of significant crop loss” before using the chemicals, called neonicotinoids.

Details of how farmers would prove their need have not yet been determined.

Minnesota, the country’s third-largest soybean producer, carried out a special review of neonicotinoids that prompted the new limits, the first U.S. state to do so.

Honey bees have been in serious decline in the United States for three decades, threatening billions of dollars in crops. In recent years, their death rate has become economically unsustainable, according to the U.S. government.

A survey of more than 20,000 honey beekeepers conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and released in May showed there were 2.59 million or 8 percent fewer honey bee colonies on January 1, 2016 than the 2.82 million a year earlier for beekeeper operations with five or more colonies.

Honey bees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed by Americans.

“Minnesota just became the national leader in protecting pollinators,” said Lex Horan, an organizer for Pesticide Action Network, a U.S. activist group.

EU LED THE WAY

Restrictions on neonicotinoids come two years after the European Union limited use of the chemicals, made and sold by companies including Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, after research pointed to the risks for bees.

Neonicotinoids are used worldwide in a range of crops and have been shown in lab-based studies to be harmful to certain species of bee, notably commercial honeybees and bumblebees.

The chemicals can be sprayed on crops to fight insects, but it is more common for U.S. farmers to plant seeds treated with neonicotinoids to keep pests, such as aphids, off crops.

State officials said they want Minnesota lawmakers to grant them the authority to regulate the sale and use of such seeds, a power that now lies with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Removing the pesticides would leave farmers more dependent on a smaller number of chemicals to control bugs, said Seth Naeve, an extension soybean agronomist for the University of Minnesota, thereby making it more likely that pests would develop resistance to those chemicals.

“We’re concerned about losing tools and a lack of flexibility to address issues,” said David Kee, director of research for Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

Farmers said they hoped other U.S. states would not follow Minnesota’s lead.

Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the governor was “restricting the ability of farmers to use all the tools the EPA has said they can use.”

“I don’t think that we’re aware of any other state that’s going to start taking away tools from farmers,” Schlegel said.

Reporting by Tom Polansek.

Gardeners can help protect butterfly populations

Bees aren’t the only pollinators suffering from a massive North American die-off. Butterfly and moth populations, those flying flowers of the insect world, are disappearing too.

“But the situation isn’t hopeless,” says Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, in Portland, Oregon. “Anybody — gardeners or butterfly lovers — can make an oasis in their landscape for these important animals. It doesn’t matter if you have a tiny lot or a farmyard. A little effort can help a lot.”

Besides their beauty, butterflies and moths play a significant role in the pollination of flowering plants, 80 percent of which rely on animals — mostly insects — to move their pollen from plant to plant, the Xerces Society says. Butterflies and moths also serve as an important food source for other animals.

Yet in the United States alone, at least five butterfly species have gone extinct since 1950; an additional 25 are listed as endangered nationwide, and four are listed as threatened, according to Xerces in its new guide, “Gardening for Butterflies” (Timber Press, 2016).

Federal protection is being sought for the monarch butterfly population, which has plunged 90 percent in North America in less than 20 years. “During the same period, it is estimated that these once-common, iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds,” the Center for Biological Diversity says.

Just as significant has been the near elimination in farm fields of milkweed, the exclusive food of monarch caterpillars.

Donald Lewis, a professor and extension entomologist with Iowa State University, cites a 2012 study that documented an 81 percent decline in milkweeds in agricultural fields from 1999 to 2010.

“The cure for butterfly and pollinator preservation, conservation and improvement is to create biodiversity, which, of course, is at odds with most farming, urban sprawl and commercial development,” Lewis said. “But it is our goal.”

Nurture, enrich and diversify your home habitat, entomologists say.

Planting pollinator gardens that emphasize nectar plants that bloom year-round for bees, wasps and other wildlife is a good first step. Butterfly gardens take that a stage further by adding host plants suitable for hungry caterpillars.

“Since butterfly larvae are picky eaters, it takes a variety of food plants,” Lewis said.

Butterfly gardens should be located where they’ll get at least six hours of sun per day. They should contain at least four annual, biennial or perennial nectar plant species, and at least 10 milkweed plants of two or more types.

Ironically, beware the invasive butterfly bush, which has been listed as a noxious weed in several states. And think twice about the mass release of butterflies.

“Xerces is taking a stand that we should not be moving or releasing butterflies for such things as weddings, out of a concern for possible diseases,” Black said. “We have a sense that the same issues that are happening with bees are happening with butterflies.”

Monsanto’s glyphosate most widely used weed-killer

Monsanto’s signature herbicide glyphosate, first marketed as “Roundup,” is now the most widely and heavily applied weed-killer in the history of chemical agriculture in both the U.S. and globally, according to a report published today.

The paper, published Feb. 2, in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe, reports that to date 8.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate have been used globally. Glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since so-called “Roundup Ready” genetically engineered crops were introduced in 1996.

In 2014, enough glyphosate was sprayed to leave more than three-quarters of a pound of the active ingredient on every harvested acre of cropland in the U.S., and remarkably, almost a half pound per acre on all cropland worldwide (0.53 kilogram/hectare).

The paper by Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., titled “Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and Globally,” is available free online at Environmental Sciences Europe. 

“The dramatic and rapid growth in overall use of glyphosate will likely contribute to a host of adverse environmental and public health consequences,” Benbrook wrote.

Last year, 17 of the world’s top cancer researchers voted unanimously to elevate glyphosate’s cancer profile on behalf of the World Health Organization. After the panel of experts reviewed all of the publicly available research, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the weed-killer as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”  Following WHO’s action, the state of California is currently in the process of listing glyphosate as a known human carcinogen under its Proposition 65 law.

As Benbrook’s paper notes, other recent studies have found connections between glyphosate exposure and a number of other serious health effects, including liver and kidney damage and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, among others. 

Remarkably, 74 percent of all glyphosate sprayed on crops since the mid-1970s was applied in just the last 10 years, as cultivation of genetically engineered corn and soybean crops exploded on both U.S. and global croplands.  

Glyphosate was first sold commercially in 1974, but its use by farmers was limited at first because the active ingredient killed both weeds and crops. The subsequent development and approval of genetically engineered (GE), herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops dramatically changed how farmers could apply it. Starting in 1996, Monsanto and other seed companies began marketing GE-HT versions of three major crops – cotton, corn, and soybeans – making it possible for farmers to apply glyphosate for months after crops started growing.

The use and efficacy of HT technology, particularly in its first decade, led to its rapid and near-universal adoption in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, and a half-dozen other countries. As a result, glyphosate use by U.S. farmers rose from 12.5 million pounds in 1995 to 250 million pounds in 2014, a 20-fold increase. Globally, total use rose from 112.6 million pounds in 1995 to 1.65 billion in 2014, a nearly 15-fold jump.

“My hope is that this paper will stimulate more research on glyphosate use and human and environmental exposure patterns to increase the chance that scientists will quickly detect any problems that might be triggered, or made worse, by glyphosate exposure,” Benbrook added.

“This report makes it clear that the use of glyphosate, combined with the dominance of genetically engineered crops, has produced a looming public health threat both in the U.S. and around the world,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, senior policy analyst at EWG. “Farmers have sprayed billions of pounds of a chemical now considered a probable human carcinogen over the past decade. Growers spray glyphosate several times a year on the majority of U.S. cropland. The sheer volume of use of this toxic weed-killer is a clear indication that this chemical dependency is a case of farming gone wrong.” 

Honey honey, how you thrill us

It’s succulent and sweet, dripping golden from the spoon. Its viscosity causes it to move in slow motion and its natural colors sparkle in the sun. It both brightens the palate and strengthens the body.

There is nothing quite like honey, the result of natural processes and hard labor on the part of busy bees everywhere. Although a small part of the agricultural industry overall, honey plays a valuable role in nutrition, according to Andy Hemken, owner of Hemken Honey Co., which commercially produces honey from 530 hives near Big Bend and helped install and maintains the observation beehive at the Milwaukee County Zoo. 

“Honey is a natural sweetener that easily absorbs into the bloodstream,” says Hemken, also the former president of the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association. “Athletes can use honey before, during and after competitions because it’s a pure carbohydrate that doesn’t take time for the body to digest.”

In addition, honey is a natural sweetener and emulsifier, acting as an effective thickening agent for sauces and dressings. It is a natural cough suppressant and humectant, meaning that it attracts and maintains moisture, which makes it a go-to ingredient for many skin care products. 

Bees produce honey as they extract nectar from flowers, which they inject with enzymes to break it down into simple sugars that are stored in the cells of the honeycomb. The pollination of the flowers is actually a happy byproduct of their efforts, according to the National Honey Board, a trade organization based in Firestone, Colorado.

Once in the comb, rapid fanning by the bees’ wings causes much of the nectar’s liquid to evaporate, which leads to honey’s viscous texture. The honey is kept and stored as food for the bee colony, although beekeepers, known as apiarists, also harvest and sell it as an agricultural product. 

In the end, the small amounts of pollen that find their way into the honey are most often filtered out as the honey is heated and refined to remove impurities. Honey may eventually change color, and its aroma and flavor may fade, but as a food product it can last for decades.

Until recently, Wisconsin was among the top 10 honey producing states. The state fell to 15th place in 2014 after a brutal winter destroyed a significant number of hives along with native vegetation on which the bees depended, according to a National Agricultural Statistics Service report.

Wisconsin honey production fell 21.2 percent to $664 million compared to 2013, the report said. It was the largest decline since 1999, when production declined more than 30 percent, but was the first time Wisconsin dropped out of the top 10.

An estimated 55 percent of the state’s hives were wiped out between October 2013 and April 2014, according to a state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection study. A continued loss of forage area also has affected production by the state’s honey colonies, which now number roughly 53,000, a decline of 10 percent in 2014.

Unbridled use of pesticides also has taken its toll on bee populations, both in Wisconsin and the rest of the country, Hemken says.

“The bees are dying,” says Hemken, who notes that nationwide bees pollinate an estimated $19 billion worth of crops each year in the process of gathering nectar. “This is a serious problem.”

Hemken and other apiarists sell bee packages, each generally consisting of one queen and 6,000 worker bees, to other growers in an attempt to slow the bee population’s decline. Last year he sold more than 1,000 such packages, and he knows beekeepers who sell many more.

Wisconsin beekeepers also are working more diligently with owners of prairies, orchards and, in Hemken’s case, several pumpkin patches to maintain pollination relationships that aren’t threatened by pesticide usage that could be fatal to the bees. 

Focusing bee populations on specific varieties of blossoms also helps cultivate the varietal nature of honey, Hemken says.

There are about 300 varietal honey types in the United States, according to Hemken. “Southeast Wisconsin is a good spot for honeybees because there are so many flowers.”

Hemken’s favorite is honey produced from the blossoms of the tupelo tree, native to southern Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. The resulting honey is almost white or lightly amber, with a mild favor and pleasant aroma. Unlike some other honeys, tupelo honey doesn’t granulate.

“Buckwheat honey also is really good and has a strong, individualized taste,” Hemken adds. However, “it’s hard to find locally produced buckwheat honey.”

Other popular types include alfalfa honey, which is light both in color and flavor; avocado honey, with a dark color and rich, buttery taste; blueberry honey, imbued with a natural blueberry flavor; clover honey, which comes in a variety of flavors and colors based on the type of clover the bees visited; and orange blossom honey, which boasts the distinctive flavor and aroma of its namesake flower.

The most often seen type, wildflower honey, is really a catchall for honey made by bees that have foraged far and wide, grabbing whatever nectar they could find from whatever flowers they came across.

“My bees are rascals and they go everywhere,” Hemken says. “Wildflower honey is generally the result.”

Urban beekeeping can be a sweet hobby

In the back corner of her yard, hidden behind a new fence, Susan Kennedy Spain recently extracted proof that her latest experiment in sustainable living is working: honey and honeycomb.

Both came from one of two beehives she installed earlier this year, her first attempt at raising bees.

“(My husband) John and I wanted to create an edible landscape,” she said. “We’ve had a vegetable garden. This seemed like a natural next step.”

The Spains, who live in Richmond, Virginia, are part of a growing but hard-to-define national movement to keep bees in urban areas, and they’re also participating in a honeybee revival movement so important to the nation’s food supply, President Barack Obama seated a task force to find ways to spur it on.

The White House installed hives in 2009, bringing national attention to the idea of being intentional in providing man-made homes for some of nature’s best, if occasionally misunderstood, pollinators. The hives there went in near first lady Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden.

The federal government’s Pollinator Health Task Force in May released its National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. It focuses on improving the health of honeybees and Monarch butterflies and includes a pledge to restore or enhance 7 million acres of habitat across the country.

“The strategy also advances ambitious federal commitments to increase and improve habitat for pollinators, both directly through the large variety of facilities and acreages of land managed by the federal government, and indirectly through the leadership role that federal agencies can play in interactions with states, localities, the private sector and citizens,” it said in a statement signed by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“These actions range from planting pollinator gardens and improving land management practices at federal facilities, to advancing the availability and use of pollinator-friendly seed mixes in land management, restoration and rehabilitation actions nationwide.”

Locally, there are half a dozen or more beekeeping clubs and associations. But figuring out how many people participate is difficult, especially since keeping hives is prohibited in many areas.

“The current ordinance is restrictive,” said Tammy Hawley, press secretary for Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones.

The most recent wording on the ordinance, she said, labels bees as a nuisance and has them lumped in with rats, mice and roaches.

But that could change, she said. Jones has advocated for other environmentally friendly ideas, such as community gardens, green building and bicycle lanes, and Hawley said it might be time to add beekeeping to the list.

“This could be a good example of how usage should be redefined,” she said.

Jones would find plenty of support in the local beekeeping community.

David Stover, a commercial photographer, has become one of the leading local experts in the nine years since he started his first hive and, like many experienced beekeepers, he loves talking about it.

“I’ve always thought it important to share what I know,” he said. “I don’t try to talk anyone into doing this. Beekeeping is a real commitment. It’s like having a pet.”

He keeps 20 or so hives at 10 or more locations in the area.

“I have changed so much in how I view the world,” he said. “I love to garden but, since I started keeping bees, that has changed.”

It used to be, he said, he’d coat his garden with whatever chemicals were necessary to make everything look pretty.

Once the bees came in, the chemicals went out.

“I learned how bad that was,” he said. “I also learned that I didn’t need that to make my yard look good.”

The popularity of beekeeping has been on an upward swing in the past decade, said RD Radford, a 40-year veteran of beekeeping and the president of the Richmond Beekeepers Association.

He credited the growth to attention that came after news reports of colony collapse disorder, which struck particularly hard in 2006-07.

At the time, beekeepers nationwide reported losses of their hives as high as 90 percent from CCD, a phenomena in which worker bees abandon their queens. The hives survive temporarily, because they have honey and baby bees, but they ultimately fail because there’s no one left to do the work.

The EPA reported 60 percent hive loss as recently as 2008, but that dropped to about 31 percent in 2013, the most recent year for which national data are available.

With the new national strategy, the EPA wants to reduce loss to about 15 percent within 10 years.

More bees is a good thing, Radford said.

“They’re just fun to watch,” he said. “I just like playing with them. I can go out there all day.”

But more bees is nothing to fear, he said.

“Unless you mess with their hive, they won’t mess with you,” he said. “When you see them on flowers, they’re just working.”

Even a swarm, he said, was harmless, at least from a distance.

“You might see one on a bridge, but it’s usually gone in an hour,” he said. “They send out scouts to find a new home.”

Spain discovered that.

She was called in to her son’s school about a swarm.

“They were going to call an exterminator, but I said no, no,” she said. “But by the time I got there, it was gone.”

She’s plenty busy anyway with the hives she has.

One has nearly tripled in size and is still growing. It’s the one with the early yield of honey.

She’s expecting more.

A friend in her neighborhood got 250 pounds of honey from his six hives last year.

Spain’s not sure how much she’ll get, but she knows what’s going to happen if the output exceeds what her family can consume.

“My friends and family are going to be very happy,” she said.

Published via the AP Member Exchange.

Scientists urge White House action to protect bees

More than 100 scientists called on leaders of President Barack Obama’s Pollinator Health Task Force to take action on pesticides to protect and promote healthy populations of bees and other pollinators.

“Bees have been quietly pollinating our crops for millennia, but now they need our help. It is vitally important that we take steps to reduce exposure of bees and other wildlife to these systemic, persistent neurotoxins,” said Dave Goulson, a bee expert and biology professor at the University of Sussex. He is a leader of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s global Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.

The 108 scientists — whose areas of expertise include entomology, agronomy, ecology, ecotoxicology — called on task force co-chairs Gina McCarthy and Tom Vilsack to place a moratorium on use of neonicotinoid pesticides in the United States and to increase investment, research and funding for growers to adopt alternatives.

Almost a year after Europe implemented a moratorium on neonicotinoids, federal policymakers in the United States have yet to take any substantive action.

Bee declines across the country have continued at unprecedented rates — more than 30 percent annually —with significant ramifications for beekeepers’ livelihoods, crops that rely on pollination and the agricultural economy. EPA has refused to finish its review for clothianidin and thiamethoxam, as well as other neonicotinoids, before 2018.

“The president’s task force should listen to the body of science that links pesticides to bee harm and bee declines,” said Jim Frazier, an entomology professor at Pennsylvania State University and commercial beekeeper advisor who specializes in chemical ecology. “These systemic pesticides are not only lethal to pollinators, but at low doses can disrupt critical brain functions and reduce their immunity — leaving them susceptible to common pathogens. The weight of the scientific evidence certainly incriminates neonicotinoids, in line with the 2013 European Food Safety Agency’s review of 800-plus publications that led to the current moratorium on certain neonicotinoids.”

The IUCN’s June 2014 “Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA)” — a review of over 800 studies by 29 independent researchers — documents significant harms to bees and ecosystems from neonicotinoids. Scientists submitting the letter today join others around the globe calling for new, dramatic restrictions on bee-harming pesticides in the United States and beyond. The report also suggests that the current regulatory system has failed to capture the range of impacts of these pesticide products. And it suggests the impacts on ecosystems can, in turn, have even greater impacts on food and farming in the United States.  

“Native bees are important contributors to crop pollination – not only do they serve as our insurance policy when supplies of honey bees are low or variable, but they often contribute as much or more to fruit and vegetable pollination as honey bees do. They can complement the actions of honey bees by flying under different weather conditions or visiting different parts of the plant – leading to more production. In all of these ways, they enhance farmer’s abilities to get their crops pollinated,” said Claire Kremen, PhD, a conservation biology professor at University of California – Berkeley, and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute. “Policymakers must protect native pollinator habitat on farms and ensure that their populations are not damaged due to harmful pesticides.”

As more studies link pesticides to bee harm and declines, more studies show that neonicotinoid seed treatments aren’t serving farmers or promoting pollination. In a study released in October, the EPA noted, “Published data indicate that in most cases there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment.” 

Neonicotinoids are an increasingly widely used class of systemic insecticides that are absorbed by plants and transported throughout the plant’s vascular tissue, making the plant potentially toxic to insects. They are commonly used in commodity agriculture as seed treatments, and also as foliar and granular treatments in nurseries. Neonicotinoids including imidacloprid (Bayer), clothianidin (Bayer), thiamethoxam (Syngenta) and dinotefuran (Mitsui Chemicals) first came into heavy use in the mid-2000s. Additional systemic pesticides that similarly disrupt brain function like sulfoxaflor (Dow) are slated to come to market soon.

Report: Bee losses continue, highlight need to restrict pesticides

During the winter of 2013-14, 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, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The numbers are based on a national survey of beekeepers through the Bee Informed Partnership.

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 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, 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 United States, despite massive bee losses that threaten vital food crops, from almonds in California to apples in Washington.

A report by Friends of the Earth and author Michele Simon uncovered the tobacco industry-style public relations tactics chemical companies such as 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. Reps. 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 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.