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New Federal Report on Honey Bee Health

(Beyond Pesticides, May 3, 2013) Despite the groundbreaking decision in Europe earlier this week to protect honey bees by suspending the neonicotinoid pesticides shown to be highly toxic, the  U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report yesterday which fails to address the overwhelming scientific evidence of neonicotinoid-related bee death and decline. The report presents no long-term, sustainable solutions to address the current bee crisis. Instead, the report recommends further research on the role of pesticides in honey bee health, further highlighting the stymied pace of U.S. regulatory efforts.

The report follows on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health, which was led by federal researchers and managers and Pennsylvania State University in October 2012. Stakeholders at the conference included industry, federal beeofficials, scientists, beekeepers, and activists who discussed several factors pertaining to adverse pollinator heath. Parasites, disease, genetics, poor nutrition, and pesticide exposure were highlighted at the meeting as synergistic factors in the observable nationwide honey bee decline.

The report recommends further research on the impacts of pesticides on bees at the colony level in the field, but does not capture the science connecting pesticides to adverse effects or the need for protective action. Instead, the report merely summarizes stakeholder comments at the meeting and highlights the uncertainties, rather than the bounty of evidence and on-the-ground beekeeper testimony. The report states, “It is clear, based on chemical analysis of bees and bee products, that exposure of bees to a gamut of pesticides is common place, but the level of exposure to any particular pesticide is generally not enough to immediately or acutely kill bees.”  However, acute testing for lethality does not include sublethal and chronic effects from prolonged exposure to multiple pesticides that occur in the field and cause demonstrable harm to bees, including immune suppression, navigational disruption, and decreased learning behavior.

Jim Jones, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator, made some important admissions during the conference call announcing the release of  the report, particularly that original EPA risk assessments and registration data requirements did not adequately consider sublethal effects to bee health. Recently published studies conclude that the systemic neonicotinoid insecticides, imidacloprid and clothianidin, cause cognitive damage in bees. While the bees are still alive, the lobes of the brain fail to communicate with each other with obvious implications for their survival. EPA’s  failure to adequately assess sublethal effects in bees prior to the registration of these pesticides, and others, highlights the regulatory failure that continues to plague the agency.

Some of the other discussion points included in the report are: the importance of the Varroa mite and its resistance to controls; the need for increased genetic diversity in honey bee colonies to improve resistance to mites and diseases; the role of poor nutrition and need for federal and state agencies to promote land management practices that improve and expand natural areas where bees can forage in pesticide-free zones; and the need for timely bee kill reporting, monitoring, and enforcement.

Unlike recent action in Europe, which placed a two-year ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides—imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam— due to their toxicity to bees, EPA has yet to implement immediate, strong, and protective measures for pollinator health. Instead, EPA is focusing on short-term risk mitigation measures, such as reducing contaminated field dust, which aligns with the pesticide industry’s focus. “EPA is working on advancing new equipment, releasing new formulations, and label standards,” said Mr. Jones, “New planting technology…should be widely available next year.” The agency continues to dismiss scientific evidence of the acute and chronic toxicity of neonicotinoids and other pesticides on bees and other pollinators, and instead focuses on technological stopgap measures. Beekeepers and environmentalists have said that EPA has yet to uphold the “unreasonable adverse effect on the environment” standard, which it is required under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

In lieu of immediate, strong, and precautionary measures, the report recommends improving “best management practices,” which do not question either the use of pesticides or recognize the availability and success of organic management practices. The new restrictions across Europe suggest that EPA consider moving beyond writing meeting reports on honey bee health and adopt actual restrictions of pesticides that peer-reviewed science has tied to pollinator decline nationwide.

For the most recent action being taken to protect honey bees, see the Beyond Pesticides BEE Protective website.

Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.


15 Responses to “New Federal Report on Honey Bee Health”

  1. 1
    Dave Zaber Says:

    Thanks for highlighting the following statement: “The report states, “It is clear, based on chemical analysis of bees and bee products, that exposure of bees to a gamut of pesticides is common place, but the level of exposure to any particular pesticide is generally not enough to immediately or acutely kill bees.” ”

    This is the same tiresome argument used in virtually every instance where pesticides are causing adverse effects on wildlife. Still, independent scientists and regulators should use that finding to ratchet down on all pesticides found in bees. Why? Because its not about whether or not we detect an effect from these exposures, its about working to eliminate all pesticide residues from bees and other living organisms, BEFORE we detect effects. Then again, that would require independent thinking and actions.

  2. 2
    eva de francisco Says:


  3. 3
    Lynette Carlson Says:

    Lets be proactive as we see in other countries in Europe and Asia. It is time to act now. Ban the pesticides found in bees.

  4. 4
    Dave Thorn Says:

    Seems to me there must be backhanders going on, but whatever it is, the staff of the EPA should be sacked, as they’re absolutely hopeless. The evidence is staring them right in the face, yet they refuse to act properly on it! Frankly, I am absolutely disgusted at their total incompetence.

  5. 5
    Nikki Donin Says:

    So many of us feel so strongly about this.

  6. 6
    Bea Chew Says:

    So much for the ‘land of milk and HONEY!!! ‘ ok, so here’s a suggestion….. Farmers, just stop using the stuff!!! Go back to the natural way ….use lady bugs and certain spiders that eat the bugs, that eat your crops. Also, i’ve heard lemon dish-soap works wonders without any harm. Needs re-applications, but so dose the bad bug juice.
    No Bees, No Food!
    Thank U, TheBea

  7. 7
    Alexandra Edwards Says:

    Cancer, AIDS, and nearly all immuno-compromising morbidity causing diseases do not kill you acutely. Including chemical and toxin exposures: lead, mercury, radiation, (excluding botulism perhaps), depending on levels amounts and bio-accumulation. Duh! Their excuses are negligent. But they are well aware of this. Thus, their concern for dwindling bee populations pales in comparison to their concern for dwindling funds. Besides, Monsanto, Dow, etc… has probably given them a sneak peak of their new prototype: some GM seed or foodstuff that self-generates, self-pollinates (Mmmm yummy). Thus… no need for the archaic Bee-way of doings things. There’s no money in that, silly.

  8. 8
    Melody Says:

    It has been known for some time that Agent Orange (pesticides) is now directly linked to diabetes, spinabifida, and a lengthy list of other diseases. Wake up people and see exactly what the government agencies (USDA, FDA, etc.) are capable of.

  9. 9
    Suzanne Cheryl Gardner Says:

    We must teach our children about the dangers of pesticides and the sacrdness of the bees andnature! Go here to see a preiew of a children’s graphic novel about colony collapse disorder. http://petrinasforestfriends.com/the-graphic-novel/the-lost-hive-demo-site/

  10. 10
    laura Says:

    it seems to me that more thoughtful planting can discourage pests, and if left to the ways of nature, things will self adjust

  11. 11
    carol p Says:

    I live in a neighborhood in a rural county, and I don’t use pesticides. But I’m sure my neighbors do, unaware like I was that pesticides are killing the bees. The only bees that I see flying any more are carpenter bees. The others are just sitting on a flower or something else dying.

  12. 12
    W. Dumas Says:

    Here we go again. The chemical companies have lined the pockets of our decision makers thus slowing or totally stopping any decisive actions that would affect the bottom line of those companies.
    In the meantime bees die, pollination slows thus creating food shortages, price increases with no further proactive solutions in sight.

  13. 13
    Nadene Says:

    It baffles me how people want to change something that is perfectly working good in the first place, embrace the bee people, be the bee, love the bee, love yourselves and love the bee. Maybe someone has an upset with a bee that stung them or maybe killed them.

  14. 14
    Annie Says:

    What the ‘powers-that-be’ don’t seem to grasp is that without bees there will be no food for anyone else.

    Surely, if there is the slightest suspicion that human activities are affecting bees, whatever is under suspicion should be ceased IMMEDIATELY until proved that is not a problem.

  15. 15
    Ron S. Says:

    When government scientists finally determined there is no safe level of radiation exposure, a whole nuckear power industry was allowed to develop following a directive to keep exposure rates “as low as reasonably achievable”.The U.S. has a pathetically worthless record of regulatory oversight. We pay the price in increased risks and mortality. We no longer lead the world in life expectancy. In America, life expectancy has diminished in recent years and infant mortality has increased. We are allowing ourselves to be killed slowly to allow increased corporate profit as they shift labor and jobs overseas. At what point is it all treason?

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