Pesticides only one possible factor in bee crisis – US EPA

02 May 2013 17:52  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The colony collapse disorder (CCD) that has devastated US honey bee populations and put major crops at risk may be related to several factors that might include pesticides, federal agricultural and environmental officials said on Thursday.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a comprehensive report on the six-year-old bee population crisis, saying that “there are multiple factors playing a role in honey bee colony declines, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure”.

But the announcement did not specify or even suggest that pesticides might be a causal agent in the crisis, saying the question needs more study.

“The most pressing pesticide research questions relate to determining actual pesticide exposures and effects of pesticides to bees in the field and the potential for impacts on bee health and productivity of whole honey bee colonies,” the joint USDA-EPA statement said.

Colony collapse disorder is an epidemic characterised by a sudden disappearance of a colony’s bees with few, if any, dead bees left behind. For reasons unknown, a colony’s bees will fly off and never return.

Although the disorder may have been building for several years, it first came to crisis-level attention after the 2006-2007 North American winter season, when 32% of the nation’s cultivated bee colonies disappeared.

A group of environmentalists and bee keepers last year petitioned the EPA, asking that the agency bar the sale and use of the pesticide clothianidin, charging that it was responsible for the CCD epidemic.

The group argued that multiple scientific studies have traced the 2006 onset of CCD to the EPA-approved introduction of clothianidin in 2003.

But Thursday’s comprehensive report by USDA and EPA suggests that while pesticides might play a role in colony collapse disorder, their impact is described only as “potential” and that much more research is needed.

Since its onset in 2006-2007, colony collapse disorder has been blamed for an annual loss of about 30% of the US bee population.

That rate of year-by-year loss is not sustainable, according to the USDA research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the continuing impact of the disorder puts a major part of US agriculture at risk.

ARS officials say that about one-third of the US diet – including most fruits, vegetables and vine crops – depend on bee pollination. Major food staple crops, such as corn, wheat and rice, are wind pollinated and have not been affected by the disorder.

The 72-page report, the work of six different USDA and EPA components, will shape further action by USDA and EPA, the agencies said, including which research priorities should be pursued over the next 5-10 years.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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