California Legislature Delays Crucial Honeybee Protections

EcoWatch    By Anastasia Pantsios   August 22, 2014

As more and more proof emerges that the widespread die-off of honeybee colonies in the last decade is linked to use of neonicotinoid pesticides, the California legislature has passed a bill that would allow its Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to do nothing until 2020.

The DRP has been studying the issues for five years (a study that was supposed to take two years under the current law) without taking meaningful action. AB 1789 extends the study window and the time frame for taking action another six years.

Nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice is representing a coalition of groups—Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety and Beyond Pesticides—which has filed a challenge  in the California Superior Court for the County of Alameda, asking the DPR to ban the pesticides prior to the study completion.

Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie said:

We’re disappointed that California legislators have just passed a bill that allows the California agencies to do nothing about widespread bee die-offs until 2020. While bee colonies are collapsing at historic rates and a huge California growing economy depends on these pollinators, we don’t have time to kick this problem that far down the road. We urge Gov. Brown to veto this bill and get to work with the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation and commit to addressing this problem much sooner than 2020.

Since honeybees are essential to the pollination of many crops, including California’s lucrative almond crop, and California is the leading agriculture state in the U.S., the loss of honeybees there would have a widespread impact on U.S. food production.

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[Note: For an informed opinion on the widespread use of neonicoitinoid pesticides and their effects on bees, please see Randy Oliver's News and Blogs page at]

Good News and Bad News About Honey Bees    By Angela Logomasini    June 6, 2014

News stories related to honeybee health the past few weeks are all over the map. Some headlines claim that new research proves that honeybees are dying off because of pesticides, while others say honeybees are doing just fine. But reality is different than either scenario. Beekeepers surely have their challenges, but banning pesticide’s won’t help them or their bees.

Much of the media “bad news” comes from a recent Harvard University study, which some say proves that a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids are to blame for colony collapse disorder (CCD), a phenomenon in which bees leave the hive and never return.

If we don’t ban these chemicals, these stories suggest, our food supply may be at risk. Yet ironically, if we do ban them, our food supply may be at greater risk because farmers will have a tougher time fighting pests that destroy crops. And they may have to resort to other pesticides that place bees at greater risk.

Yet the Harvard study did not really settle the issue anyway. In this study, researchers fed bees a relatively high level of the pesticides, which may not be a good reflection how the chemicals impacts bees in the real world. All this proves is that high pesticide levels can harm bees, it doesn’t prove that actual real-life exposures have the same impact. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, who is the director of a honeybee research initiative called Bee Informed, pointed that out in a New York Times story, which notes:

Dr. vanEngelsdorp said that Dr. Lu and his colleagues gave the bees doses far beyond what they would encounter in nature, and over longer periods of time, so the new study only shows that “high doses of ‘neonics’ kill bees — which is not surprising. 

Meanwhile a survey on honeybee health conducted by Bee Informed shows that bees did much better during the winter of 2013-2014 than prior years. And this happened despite the fact that neonicotinoids were used that year like the others. What explains the improvement? Beekeeper and policy scholar Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center explained in a recent blog post:

Such a significant decline in winter mortality indicates beekeepers are effectively changing their management techniques in response to losing hives. It also shows how hyperbole about honeybees is harming thoughtful discussion about the causes of CCD.

In fact, Engelsdorp noted that losses could have been much lower if beekeepers better managed varroa mites, which present a major challenge to honeybee health. And ironically, pesticides–which beekeepers use in hive to fight of mites and other insects that harm honeybees–are part of the solution. A press statement on the study explains:

“What is clear from all of our efforts is that varroa is a persistent and often unexpected problem,” said vanEngelsdorp. “Every beekeeper needs to have an aggressive varroa management plan in place. Without one, they should not be surprised if they suffer large losses every other year or so. Unfortunately, many small-scale beekeepers are not treating and are losing many colonies. Even beekeepers who do treat for mites often don’t treat frequently enough or at the right time. If all beekeepers were to aggressively control mites, we would have many fewer losses.”

There is no easy answer, but it does appear that pesticides are not the cause of CCD and bans won’t fix things, they will simply make it harder for farmers to grow food. It seems clear that many factors affect honeybee health, and the biggest risks come from diseases and other natural pests. The answer lies in better management of these risks. And if we eventually do find that pesticides are part of the problem–and this is yet to be determined–we should look for ways to manage the risks rather than ban useful products outright without regard to the consequences.

Any policy should ensure beekeepers can continue the great work they do while, at the same time, recognize the fact that farmers need tools–including pesticides–to produce an affordable food supply.

Pesticides on Brink of Ban Over Honey Bee Losses

Western Farm Press    By Chris Bennett in Farm Press Blog     2/20/14

A neonicotinoid ban might cost Europe up to $23 billion and put 50,000 jobs on the chopping block. 

For U.S. agriculture and California, the neonicotinoid outcome in Europe may serve as a regulatory road map.

Honey bees are a massive global business, responsible for a third of the world’s food production. Honey bees provide $15 billion in added U.S. crop value each year, and as the USDA reports, “About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.”

It’s difficult to overstate honey bee significance to the planet’s food security. And since 2006, after the bullrush onset of Colony Collapse Disorder, scientists and beekeepers have looked for a source of blame; a cause to explain millions of abandoned hives and billions of dead bees.

The EU, mainly based on the research of Italian biologist Marco Lodesani, thinks it has fingered the culprit: neonicotinoid pesticides. According to Businessweek, three years of research led Lodesani to a conclusion of toxic poisoning: “Our findings show that the bee colonies are dying off in such large numbers, and that the link is pesticides,” said Lodesani. He added that the ‘pharma’ link, as he calls it, is strong enough to rule out other suspected causes, such as a deadly virus, as a principle cause for colony deaths.”

The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA), took Lodesani’s report and ran with it. As a result, neonicotinoid pesticides are on the brink of European ban. On Feb. 25, the EU’s 27 member states will vote on a proposed two-year neonicotinoid ban (the vote has been pushed back to March 14-15); ratification will require a majority vote and if passed, the ban will go into effect on July 1. Narrowed down, the neonicotinoid legislation puts three chemicals in the crosshairs: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam...