2.6 million dead bees make stinging point about pesticides

A truck loaded with 2.6 million dead bees made its final stop Wednesday: the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in downtown Washington.

It arrived after a two-week trip across the United States sponsored by a group calling itself Keep the Hives Alive.

James Cook, a Minnesota beekeeper, drove the truck carrying the dead bees all the way from California, hoping the action will emphasize the alarm over the death of bees in the United States.

Cook said despite having worked with bees for only five years, he's already experienced multiple bee die-offs and sees the need for "monumental" change to environmental policies affecting bees and other pollinators.

"Something really deep and concerning [has been] happening in the environment," Cook said. "It [is] really apparent we needed to pay a lot more attention to honeybees."

Bees are important because about 84 per cent of the crops grown for human consumption - from fruits and vegetables to nuts and sunflowers - must be pollinate by bees and other insects to increase their yields and quality.

The 2.6 million dead bees were visible through clear plastic containers loaded onto the back of the truck that Cook drove. The Keep the Hives Alive organizers said they were only a portion of the the bees that died between April 2015 and April 2016 in the US alone.

Of the 2.8 million bee hives in the country, 840,000 of them were completely wiped out in that period, Cook said.

The US government has acknowledged the problem, which has been a cause of concern worldwide for more than a decade. The USDA defined the problem as colony collapse disorder in 2006 after receiving reports about large-scale bee deaths in the US.

According to a study supported by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), beekeepers in the US lost 44 per cent of their colonies, or groups of hives, in the past year.

Environmentalists have long suspected pesticides are a major factor behind the bee die-offs, and Wednesday's protest sought to urge policymakers to take action to ban certain pesticides that are known to harm bee populations.

Activists attribute bee deaths to a widely used class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. The EPA is currently conducting a study of the pesticides and confirmed in January that one of them, imidacloprid, harms bees.

The EPA has not officially proposed any restrictions for use of neonicotinoids, and beyond imidacloprid, has yet to release data on the other three neonicotinoids.

Activists are calling for immediate action to restrict all of them.

"What’s happening today to pollinators is no different than what happened 50 years ago with the collapse of the osprey, bald eagle, and other bird and aquatic animal populations due to the use of DDT," said Scott Nash, chief executive of a small chain of organic food markets.

Nash, who spoke at the rally Wednesday, referred to a pesticide that was widely used in the US for decades until it was outlawed in 1972.

While the EPA has not said it would change current rules, it has said it would accelerate the review process for neonicotinoids.

In Europe officials are examining their own response to colony collapse disorder. The European Union banned neonicotinoids in 2013 over the same concerns linking the pesticides to bee deaths.

Scientists with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are currently reviewing the ban, which could potentially lead to a rollback of the ban.

Officials from the European Commission said Wednesday it was too early to tell what actions the review of data would bring. Results of the review not due to be presented until 2017.

"This review will be based not only on new studies submitted by applicants, but also on other publicly available scientific information," Enrico Brivio, a spokesman for the European Commission, said in an email to dpa. "On the basis of EFSA's analysis, the commission will consider whether further measures are needed and the way forward."

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment on the Keep the Hives Alive protest but said it was researching neonicotinoids to see if following the EU's lead would be effective.

The EPA also said other factors like bee pests and pathogens, nutrition, and bee breeding and genetics need to be taken into account.

Citing other factors influencing bee declines does not excuse neglecting action on pesticide control, said Madeleine Carnemark from the Center for Food Safety.

Carnemark said she hoped to emphasize the importance of reforming pesticide control in a meeting activists have with EPA officials Thursday.

"We need the EPA to see [that] we need action against [neonicotinoids] now," she said. "If we keep doing nothing, soon, it's going to be too late to try out anything."

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25

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