Bee deaths prompt states to reexamine pesticides, fund research
Pollinators contribute $24 billion in annual value to the U.S. food system by some estimates. Yet as honeybee colony losses persist—the national rate approached 40% in 2014—experts say stakeholders including farmers and policymakers must act more quickly or risk an ineffective patchwork of legislation that puts the nation’s food supply in jeopardy.
“Based on the dollar value of contribution to our food system, honeybees are the third most important animal, ranking behind cattle and hogs and ahead of poultry,” explains James Frazier, professor emeritus of entomology, Penn State University.
Multi-Layer Approach. In response to the crisis, lawmakers have issued a fleet of proposals. At the federal level, the Obama administration has formed a Pollinator Health Task Force aimed at coordinating research into losses and recovering from them. Meanwhile, on July 29, the comment period ended for an EPA proposal prohibiting the use of highly toxic pesticides when blooming crops and bees are present.
For top producers, legislative change might be seen even sooner at the state level in the form of restrictions on pesticide application, new requirements for data collection and guidelines for introducing on-farm plants that benefit pollinators.
70% of flowering plants depend on insects for pollination
“States introduced over 50 [pollinator] bills in 2015,” says Jennifer Schultz, policy associate, National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Seven states, including Indiana and Minnesota, have laws aimed at protecting pollinators from pesticides, while California and Oregon limit neonicotinoids specifically.
Over the past several years, agribusinesses such as Bayer CropScience, Monsanto and Syngenta have made significant investments in honeybee research and protection programs. Now, state lawmakers aim to extend research investments at the local level while raising enforcement and increasing educational outreach.
Consequences For Farms. Yet with so many policies either in force or in the works, it can be difficult for producers to know how rules will impact their bottom line. That doesn’t mean farmers’ interests are being ignored, Schultz says. In Minnesota, for example, a bill pending in the legislature as of late June would appropriate $250,000 to help farmers implement best practices for pollinator protection and help reduce neonicotinoid usage.
Other legislation has attempted to fine-tune the qualifications of those who apply pesticides.
“Although it failed in committee, a bill introduced in Maryland attempted to introduce labeling requirements and limit the use of neonicotinoids on or after Jan. 1, 2016,” notes Lauren Rodman, policy associate with NCSL. “This bill would have restricted the usage of neonicotinoids unless the person is a certified applicator, a farmer who uses the pesticide for agricultural purposes or a veterinarian.”
In Frazier’s view, a groundswell of public outcry will be necessary to force the political system to respond to pollinator concerns.
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