Commentary: Support, criticism of bee mortality report

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CropLife America is cautiously encouraged by the results of this year’s annual survey on bee colony losses conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland Bee Informed Partnership. On the other side, the Friends of the Earth organization is being consistent with its complaints that bees are dying at rates that are too high to be sustainable based on the USDA report.

This is another example of two different groups interpreting results of research differently. Too bad that negative interpretations of any research seem to gain more mileage than good news interpretations when media files news for consumers to see, hear or read.

Also, so many groups outside and inside agriculture complain about Environmental Protection Agency and USDA regulations and the background data used to justify actions. Therefore, there are probably many within agriculture that aren’t inclined to believe a positive bee health interpretation if it is based on government-collected data.

It is more logical to see this bee health report as neither positive or negative, which is more in line with what CLA suggests.

The survey results for the 2013/2014 winter show that 23.2 percent of managed honeybee colonies in the U.S. were lost, compared to 30.5 percent losses reported for the 2012/2013 winter. Over an eight-year period, the average total of colony losses reported is 29.6 percent. The 2014 self-reported survey reflects responses from nearly 7,200 beekeepers in the U.S. who collectively manage 21.7 percent of the 2.6 million bee colonies in the country.

“As the survey’s co-author Dr. Jeffery Pettis noted, the unstable survey results from year to year indicate that there is not one single solution we can implement to diminish bee colony losses. Recent evidence points to the parasitic Varroa mite as a primary threat to pollinators, but other issues such as adequate nutrition and best management practices among beekeepers must also be addressed,” commented Jay Vroom, CLA’s president and CEO.

He further noted, “There is still a great deal of work to be done to address issues surrounding bee health.”

Contrary to my interpretation that having USDA issuing this report possibly hurts its complete credibility by some people, Vroom thinks the government involvement provides more credibility than any other survey could achieve. And Vroom is right in suggesting that these government agencies have to be involved.

“We look forward to working with USDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and all involved stakeholders in pursuing science-based solutions for honeybees and other pollinators,” he said.

Lisa Archer, director of Friends of the Earth’s Food and technology program, was adamant that the report showed nothing positive. And she used the survey report as a time to attack pesticides and specifically neonicotinoid insecticides as the cause for annual winter bee deaths. The group in its news release rehashed suspect “scientific research” that has claimed the insecticides are behind bee mortality.

“These dire honey bee numbers add to a consistent pattern of unsustainable bee losses in recent years. When combined with steep declines in wild pollinators, they point to the urgent need for action,” she said. “Bees are the canary in the coal mine for our food system. While various factors are contributing to bee deaths, a strong and growing body of science tells us we must take action now to protect bees from neonicotinoid pesticides.”

I’m in hopes that the USDA news release and comments such as those made by CLA’s Vroom will be the news spread worldwide, but I suggest, negative interpretations of the survey have more appeal to be spread by the general news media.

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