Bee Health Issues
From all the information being gathered and the scope of attention being paid to the decline in the number of honey bees available to pollinate crops, regulation or guideline changes for pesticide use should be anticipated. This is even though the U.S. Agriculture Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a “comprehensive report on honey bee health” in May that blamed the decline in bees on “multiple factors.”
But one of those controllable factors is indiscriminate insecticide use, and the onus is being placed on ag retailers, custom applicators and farmers to use best management practices and steward crop protection products better. Additionally, anyone associated with rural America is being expected to look at improving the habitat for bees.
“There is pressure to act. There will be changes to labels on pesticides, best management practices, mitigation strategies and on and on,” said David Epstein, Ph.D., entomologist with the USDA office of Pest Management Policy. He made his comments while explaining the current situation with honey bees, the life cycle of honey bees and the history of honey bees at Bayer CropScience’s Ag Issues Forum during the winter.
He participated in the October 2012 “National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health” from which the USDA and EPA based its comprehensive report on the bee situation, which provided no answers but outlined how much more research is needed to understand why bee populations have dropped drastically starting in 2006.
A 10 percent to 15 percent overwintering loss of bees is typical for commercial bee hives, but in 2006 through 2013 the annual loss of bees has been greater than 20 percent with a high of nearly 40 percent for this year’s estimate.
Every report about bee health notes how a number of factors stress bees to the point that many perish. There are old and newly identified parasites and diseases, low genetic diversity, poor nutrition and pesticides in the environment.
Pesticide Testing Protocol
As the government agencies have suggested, “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 challenge relating to pesticide impact lies in the testing. As Epstein explained, there are tier one, tier two and tier three testing. With tier one testing, you dose the bees in the lab with the pesticide and judge the response. Tier two testing involves setting up studies to simulate real-field conditions and look at not only what is happening to the honey bee itself but the whole bee colony.