Bees were the buzz on Capitol Hill Wednesday in a House subcommittee hearing on pollinator health.
The goal, according to U.S. Representative Rodney Davis (R-Illinois)? To improve communication among the USDA, EPA, and other agencies on bee health, which has economic and environmental impacts for agriculture and others.
In his opening statement, Davis expressed his frustration at what he sees as an excessive focus on the factor of neonicotinoid pesticides in bee deaths.
“They are highly effective and have seen a very rapid adoption rate among producers because of the significant benefits they offer,” he said. “It is frustrating that efforts to innovate and employ new, proven technologies to enhance our ability to produce food, feed and fiber are constantly under attack.”
(Pollinator health has become an ongoing concern. The USDA on Wednesday released a study showing that summer and winter losses over the past 12 months have cost U.S. beekeepers 42 percent of their honey bee colonies.)
During the hearing, Davis also criticized the lack of coordination among federal agencies that have been charged to develop a national approach to pollinator health, citing a surprise National Wildlife Refuge System ban on neonicotinoids on its land and an equally unexpected release of an EPA study saying that neonicotinoids provide only limited benefits in crop production.
“Examples like this are why we fought so hard in the Farm Bill to give agriculture a seat at the table when EPA is considering rules and regulations that would impact farmers,” he said.
Bees are essential to American horticulture and agriculture, pollinating more than 75 percent of flowering plants and almost 75 percent of field crops, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
That adds up to big money. Such insects are involved in pollinating an estimated $15 billion to $20 billion worth of crops each year, according to Dr. Robert Johansson, USDA’s acting chief economist, who spoke at the hearing.
But the production of many of those crops also involve neonicotinoids. “Without the use of neonics, we will have no citrus in Florida,” said U.S. Representative Ted Yoho (R-Florida), who suggested there needs to be more research into other factors in bee health, such as the stress of moving hives from state to state.
U.S. Representative Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) also called for a balanced approach. “I’m a fruit producer, so I understand fully the importance of honey bees to our way of life and to our ability to produce food and also a user of some of these classes of chemicals. I might add they have been very successful in allowing us to control very problematic pests very economically. (They have also allowed us to reduce) the amount of sprays we apply, so I think we can find a balance here at some point.”
Committee members also questioned whether the EPA is being scientifically rigorous enough in its neonicotinoid research.
“We are committed to using sound science in making the decisions that we do around neonics,” replied Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for the office of safety and pollution prevention. “Most of the grief we get is because we haven’t cancelled the neonics, not because we haven’t followed a science-based process.”
Click here to read USDA Acting Economist Robert Johannson's written testimony to the committee.
Click here to read EPA Assistant Administrator Jim Jones' written testimony to the committee.