Additional restrictions on pesticides may be needed to save honeybees and other pollinators that have been devastated over the past decade, a White House task force said.
The government also should step up efforts to increase habitat for bees, butterflies and other species crucial to agriculture while boosting research on rapid population declines, the task force said in its report Tuesday. Efforts to boost pollinator populations will require a 70 percent increase in U.S. spending, to $82.5 million next year, the group said.
“Mitigating the effects of pesticides on bees is a priority for the federal government, as both bee pollination and insect control are essential to the success of agriculture,” the report said. “These complex considerations mandate care in all pesticide application.”
President Barack Obama created the group last June to examine the causes of declines in the populations of bees, Monarch butterflies and other species and to craft strategies to reverse the losses. U.S. beekeepers last week reported 42 percent of their honeybees died in the past year, the second- highest since complete records began being kept in 2010.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been considering restrictions on pesticides to “reduce the likelihood of acute exposure and mortality to bees,” including new labeling rules and limits on when certain chemicals may be applied, the study said.
Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council have blamed pesticides made by Bayer AG and other companies as a key factor behind higher bee losses, with special attention to so-called neonicotinoids, which are under a two- year ban in the European Union for possible links to bee deaths. Industry groups and some studies dispute this, finding mites, viruses, and other maladies to be larger contributors to the deaths.
Even with the losses, the commercial bee population has remained steady for the past decade as beekeepers spend more time and money replacing hives. Those costs have roughly doubled, according to the task force report.
Wild pollinator populations have been declining as well, according to studies: Monarch butterfly populations may have fallen by roughly 90 percent over two decades, according to a study cited in the report.
To combat the losses, the government’s goal over the next decade is to add 7 million acres of land as pollinator habitat. Government and private-sector activities to combat bee maladies and improve the quality of forage also should reduce bee deaths seen over winter months to 15 percent of managed colonies. That’s a loss rate last seen in almost a decade; beginning in 2006-2007, U.S. beekeepers have reported losing an average of 30 percent of their bees during winters.
Honeybees pollinating plants from apricots to zucchini help to increase crop values by $15 billion a year, according to the USDA.
Companies from Hershey Co., maker of Almond Joy candy bars, to Burt’s Bees lip-balm producer Clorox Co., rely on pollinated crops.
The White House task force said pesticides require further study, with greater attention to pollinator health needed as part of the approval and renewal processes for new and existing chemicals.
The U.S. task force, led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA, included participation from more than a dozen federal agencies.