Photos and Facts: What You Can Learn From The White House Honey Bees

The White House Blog    By Tanya Somander   June 16, 2015

It's National Pollinator Week! What does that mean and why should you care? 

Check this out:

That's a White House bee -- up close and personal! Just one of the many pollinators buzzing about the White House grounds that we're working hard to protect. As President Obama's Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren wrote in an email this morning:

"Honeybees, native bees, other insect pollinators, birds, and bats provide tremendously valuable services to society. That's why, here at the White House and across the Administration, we're doing a lot to protect these hardworking contributors to society, which you can learn about here."

Didn't get the email? You can sign up for updates here

The White House is home to its very own beehive, where about 70,000 honeybees contribute to the essential pollination services that bees and other pollinators provide worldwide.

Here's a few facts you might not know about these incredible creatures:

The "buzz" associated with honeybees is the sound of their four wings beating more than 11,000 times per minute. With wing-speeds that high, honeybees can fly faster than most people can run: about 15 miles per hour.

Bees use magnetism to find their way back home to their hives. Worker bees have a region of magnetite in their abdomens that allow them to use the Earth's magnetic field to help them navigate.

Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year, and helps ensure that our diets include ample fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

But pollinators are struggling. Last year, beekeepers reported losing about 40% of honeybee colonies.

That's why the President's Task Force to promote the health of our pollinators is pursuing a strategy with these three overarching goals: 

  1. Reduce honeybee colony losses to economically sustainable levels
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.

Learn more about the President's action plan here.

And if you want to join in the effort to protect the honeybee, plant a pollinator-friendly garden at your own school, home, or business to help achieve the ambitious goal of planting a million pollinator-gardens nationwide. 

Swing & A Miss on Bee Harming Pesticides

Pesticide Action Network   May 28, 2015

Once again, it looks like federal decisionmakers are sidestepping the issue of bee-harming pesticides. The Pollinator Health Task Force, launched almost a year ago by President Obama, released its strategy for addressing pollinator declines last week — without tackling the pesticide problem.

While the plan sets an ambitious goal for reining in honey bee losses, and calls for state plans to increase habitat for pollinators, it fails to directly address the impact of neonicotinoids and other insecticides, despite crystal clear science that these chemicals are impacting pollinators. 


Call on your Rep. to support the Saving America's Pollinators Act! Help get neonicotinoids and other bee-toxic pesticides off the shelf.Act Now

The creation of this inter-agency task force — led jointly by USDA and EPA — signaled a renewed commitment at the federal level to address the crisis facing bees and other pollinators. And while regulators were formulating their new strategy, more than four million beekeepers, farmers, scientists and concerned advocates across the country urged them to directly and meaningfully address the issue of bee-toxic pesticides.

Unfortunately, the plan falls short.

Goals without a plan

The task force strategy focuses on three goals:

  1. Reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels;
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration; and
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.

All important, certainly. But it's unclear how regulators intend to meet their goal of reducing annual honey bee losses to an "economically sustainable" average of 15% — commonplace for healthy hives — when losses in recent years have hovered around 30-40% or more.

Recent reports show that last year's bee losses were the second worst on record for U.S. beekeepers.

An ever growing body of independent science shows that neonics and other pesticides play a critical role in declining bee populations. Without action on pesticides, the problem will persist.

In a media statement last week, PAN organizer Lex Horan put it this way:

“A lopsided federal policy that takes decisive action on habitat, mites and other issues, while remaining stuck on pesticides, will not turn the tide on bee declines.”

Read at:

White House Plan Does Little To Take The Sting Out Of Pollinator Declines

Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog  May 20, 2015

(Washington, DC, May 20, 2015) Yesterday, the White House released its much awaited plan for protecting American pollinators, which identifies key threats, but falls short of recommendations submitted by Beyond Pesticides, beekeepers, and others who stress that pollinator protection begins with strong regulatory action and suspension of bee-toxic pesticides. The Pollinator Health Task Force, established by President Obama in June 2014, brought together most federal agencies to “reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels,” and involved developing a National Pollinator Health Strategy and a Pollinator Research Action Plan. The Strategy outlines several components, such as a focus on increased pollinator habitat, public education and outreach, and further research into a range of environmental stressors, including systemic neonicotinoid pesticides. Although well-intentioned, the Strategy ultimately works at cross-purposes by encouraging habitat, but continuing to allow pesticides that contaminate landscapes.

“Waiting for additional research before taking action on neonicotinoid pesticides, which current science shows are highly toxic to bees, will not effectively stem pollinator declines, and is unlikely to achieve the National Pollinator Health Strategy’s goal of reducing honey bee losses to no more than 15% within 10 years,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

A major component of the federal plan is the creation and stewardship of habitat and forage for pollinators. However, without restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids, these areas are at risk for pesticide contamination and provide no real safe-haven for bees and other pollinators. Beyond Pesticides continues to encourage federal agencies to adopt organic management practices that are inherently protective of pollinators.

Under the plan, EPA will propose...


Over 4 Million People Press Obama to Protect Bees

Pesticide Action Network   Press Release  March 4, 2015

Congress heeds call to action and introduces legislation as pressure mounts on White House Task Force to issue meaningful recommendations

Washington, DCA coalition of beekeepers, farmers, business leaders, environmental and food safety advocates rallied in front of the White House and delivered more than 4 million petition signatures today calling on the Obama administration to put forth strong protections for bees and other pollinators. This action anticipates the Pollinator Health Task Force recommendations, expected later this month. The task force, announced by the White House this past June, is charged with improving pollinator health through new agency regulations and partnerships. The assembled groups demand that the recommendations include decisive action on rampant use of neonicotinoids, a class of systemic insecticides scientists say are a driving factor in bee declines.

The rally coincided with both a D.C. metro ad campaign and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and John Conyers’s (D-MI) reintroduction of the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would suspend the use of four of the most toxic neonicotinoids until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts a full review of their safety.

Representative Blumenauer, said, “Pollinators are not only vital to a sustainable environment, but key to a stable food supply. In fact...


Shaking Up the White House

Pesticide Action Network  By Paul Towers  February 4, 2015

As I spoke to a packed room at the EcoFarm Conference late last month, it was clear that many of us eagerly await the unveiling of the White House's new plan to protect bees. But if recent events are any indication, officials aren’t getting the message that pesticides are a key part of the problem. Just one day before my talk, EPA approved another bee-harming pesticide.

With this recent decision, it’s time to shake up the White House hive. No, not the beehive near the Obamas’ kitchen garden, but the politics that are blocking progress for the nation’s pollinators. It's the White House Task Force on Pollinator Health that's releasing a new plan, and they really need to get it right.

Scientific evidence very clearly links pesticides, especially persistent and systemic insecticides, to bee declines. And as EPA documents, these chemicals aren't much help to farmers anyway. That’s why EPA’s approval of a so-called “safer” pesticide that's virtually identical to other bee-harming pesticides on the market is so unnerving. It raises real concerns about what the plan from the EPA-chaired White House Task Force will contain.

What’s in a plan?


Urge the White House task force to enact real and rapid protections for honey bees.
 Act Now

As the White House announces its plan, they will need to reflect on the reality of the plight of bees, beekeepers and farmers alike. This means they can’t avoid addressing the role pesticides play. A comprehensive plan that supports a healthy food and farming system will have to immediately restrict use of systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids (neonics), and stop new, harmful products from coming to market. And it must include support and incentives to help farmers shift to more sustainable farming practices.

Some of the concepts being bandied about don’t go nearly far enough, and tend to put the burden on beekeepers, rather than on pesticide manufacturers and federal regulators.

Here are a few ideas that are worth calling out as wholly inadequate:

  • State pollinator plans: The White House may rely more heavily on states in its new plan. As recent plans out of North Dakota and Florida show, this can place the burden heavily on beekeepers. Both these new state plans establish registries and 48-hour notification for beekeepers to move or cover hives from pesticide applications. In some states there are simply no “safe” areas for bees, given repeated applications on nearby fields — plus the persistence of many pesticides (especially neonicotinoids) in plants, soil and water. Forcing beekeepers to pick-up-and-leave also disrupts pollination and places more stress on bees.
  • Best management practices: When government officials don’t want to take meaningful action, they often fall back on "best management practices" (BMPs) — voluntary guidelines for growers and beekeepers alike. Numerous national stakeholder meetings have developed and recommended such guidelines — and while important, they can’t do enough to protect bees. Providing education and sharing learnings and best practices is certainly a good thing; but this can’t be the response to the dramatic bee declines we face today.
  • Weak label changes: Comprehensive label changes are not only good, but necessary. Unfortunately, changes to date have been unclear and largely unenforceable — and haven’t led to either bee protections or meaningful reductions in use of bee-harming pesticides. Future labels need to account for the presence of bees, address seed coatings and the residual pesticides on crops, consider bees not actively pollinating at the time of application, and specifically warn applicators about the impact of pesticide combinations.

Numerous organizations have offered recommendations for a meaningful plan, one that will protect bees and other pollinators. Hopefully the White House will take these seriously. And not a moment too soon.

Jeff Blain, a beekeeper just outside of Boise, Idaho called me as I was writing up this blog with an earful (printed with his permission) about last month’s approval of flupyradifurone:

“How could they let this new pesticide slide through? The lesson I learned from my grandfather is ‘don’t put things in you can’t take out.’ It’s clear that government officials aren’t paying attention and haven’t been doing their job as watchdogs. And it’s time they started paying attention to the harm [pesticides] are doing to small growers, beekeepers and bees.”

I’m with Jeff. We expect a strong plan from the White House Task Force on Pollinator Health, one that meaningfully protects bees from harmful pesticides — and one that most certainly doesn't involve approval of any new, long-lasting, systemic pesticides.