Bee Health Issues
Tier three is full field studies of bees in their natural habitat. “And the researchers uniformly are telling us that designing and funding of these type of studies are major challenges,” Epstein said.
He added, “With honey bees, it doesn’t matter what happens to one bee; it’s what happens to the colony” that is of major concern.
Setting up those outdoor real-field condition tests have been the center of controversy. The main insecticides under intense scrutiny at this time are the neonicotinoid class of chemistry. Activists against pesticide use claim as many as 30 scientific studies have found a link between the neonicotinoids and decresing bee numbers, including a study by the European Food Safety Authority.
Manufacturers of neonicotinoids, which includes the major crop protection companies, have been quick to claim the studies have been conducted outside of appropriate scientific protocol and the studies delivered too high of doses of insecticide compared to real-life field situations, which circles back to Epstein’s comments about tier three testing being extremely hard to do for trustworthy results.
Without a consensus of opinion about neonicotinoid dangers, the European Commission pushed ahead with banning imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam active ingredient insecticides as May began. It isn’t likely that such a ban will occur in the U.S., any time soon. The investment in research has picked up greatly with the major manufacturers working with scientists across the nation.
Bayer CropScience is building its Bee Care Center and has a whole bee care program for interfacing with beekeepers and researchers. Syngenta has established funding grants for research and is taking leadership roles in working with private industry. Monsanto acquired a bee research company.
The most recent target of neonicotinoids’ use is as seed treatments, and this is happening just as farmers have been widely accepting the concept of using multiple active ingredient seed treatment compounds to get crops off to a fast, healthy start.
Whole Picture Look
Epstein and Dave Westervelt, assistant chief, Bureau of Plant and Apiary Inspection for the state of Florida, who also spoke at Bayer CropScience’s Ag Issues Forum, weren’t pointing their fingers at pesticides as being the main culprit for bee deaths and colony collapse disorder, where the whole hive of bees die off.
But both of them agreed that something needs to be done to increase bee populations in the U.S. “We are seeing the need for more pollination services, but at the same time we are seeing fewer bees,” said Epstein. “We had a peak back in about 1950 of almost six million bee colonies, and we have seen a steady decline since then until the latest survey from the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported about two and one-half million hives currently out there.”