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USDA Talks Honeybees on Twitter

Last week’s cover of TIME magazine featured a story about the rapid rate of decline of honeybee populations across the globe. The article focuses on the question of the price we’ll pay if we don’t figure out what is killing the honeybee. A daunting thought when you think about the fact that one-third of all food and beverages are made possible through pollination and pollinators are valued at $15 billion annually.

This morning, Jim Jones from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), author Hannah Nordhaus and I joined TIME journalist Bryan Walsh on Twitter to discuss the topic and what is being done and what needs to be done. If you happened to miss the Twitter chat, you can follow what was said by searching #TIMEbees.

There are many theories about the plight of the honeybees, yet none of the research is conclusive to one single cause for the massive number of honeybee deaths. This May, USDA and EPA released a scientific report echoing this conclusion – there are multiple factors playing a role in honey bee colony declines, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.

The reports key findings show just how complex of an issue this is. The parasitic Varroa mite is recognized as a major factor underlying colony loss in the United States and other countries. U.S. honeybee colonies need increased genetic diversity to improve their temperature regulation, disease resistance and worker productivity. Bees need better forage and a variety of plants to support colony health, as a nutrition-poor diet can make bees more susceptible to harm from disease and parasites. We need better communication between growers, beekeepers and industry on best practices to protect bees from pesticides. And lastly, we need more research to determine actual pesticide exposures and effects to bees in the field and on the health and productivity of whole honey bee colonies.

While this is a multi-faceted issue, USDA remains committed to finding solutions that ensure bee survival. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has funded numerous projects on honeybee health; specifically the University of Maryland is leading a project on developing a nationwide network to monitor and maintain honey bee health. And a project at the University of Georgia has produced a number of articles on the causes of colony loss.

Honeybee survival is critical to sustaining our country’s long-term agricultural productivity, and in the coming years, this topic will remain a priority for NIFA and USDA as a whole.

3 Responses to “USDA Talks Honeybees on Twitter”

  1. Alex Grover says:

    Bee nutrition is ultimately up to the beekeeper, pests and desease will be with us forever, genetics can be solved by local breeders letting the bees do what they naturally do.

    That leaves pesticides as the factor that the government can most easily influence. What I don’t get is why it seems to be so easy to get a pesticide provisionally approved, but when there is reasonable evidence that there may be a problem, it is almost imposible to put even a partial, temporary moratorium on the questionable product.

    If a ban on neonicotiniods were in place for only the crops with the most potential for damage to bees, we would have time to do the proper studies to know what we should do long term.

    The same goes double for banning their use on ornamental crops. After all, ornamental crops are not necessary for survival, most of the pests for them are more of a nuisance.

    Are these ideas so radical? Are they a nuclear option? I don’t think so. They seem reasonable, they allow for respect to both sides, do not totally remove the profits of the pesticide producers, and they give our stressed bees a chance to recover and at least reduce one potential stressor.

    And if it doesn’t work, at least we have the potential for more data and neither the chemical companies nor the beekeepers will receive a killing blow.

  2. Bill says:

    Lets be clear…Australia has no varroa mite and has “CCD” syndrome. The trail we can follow there is that the country uses all forms of neonicotinoids. Another aspect that is never spoken of is how humans have inadvertently spread apiary pests and diseases across the globe by importing bees from country to country and state to state. Meanwhile, chemical industry only care is the profit bottom line. The GMO technologies arid several pesticide applications are failing due to insect resistance. Our obvious abuse of these substances and technologies has brought yet even more toxic materials into use due to insect resistance. Since neonicotinoids accumulate in soils, every subsequent application means we are faced with ground water contamination and any buffer barriers of forage for pollinators is also contaminated making the environment a toxic waste land. Since we now have studies that conclusively show that neonicotinoids are indeed highly toxic to pollinators, it s sheer stupidity for the USA to continue to abuse these chemical substances. What effects do these chemicals have on human health in such vast quantities that we we abuse every month? We don’t know cause we don’t track these substances, especially the consumer usage.

  3. BrentBT says:

    What part of multifactorial do people not understand? Assigning blame is always satisfying, but reality is that many things destabilize bee health resulting in greater disease susceptibility. The problem won’t be solved by pointing fingers but by taking an all things considered approach. I don’t think we have spent nearly enough time scrutinizing the perfect storm created by the coincidence of industrial agricultural and apicultural practices. What about legislation that regulates the quantity of interstate hive transport as a start boys?

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