Total losses of managed honey bee colonies was 23.2 percent
nationwide for the 2013-2014 winter, according to the annual report
issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the "Bee
Informed Partnership," a group of honeybee industry participants.
The death rate for the most recent winter, October 2013 through
April 2014, was better than the 30.5 percent loss reported for the
winter of 2012-2013, but worse than the 21.9 percent in 2011-2012,
the report said. Previous surveys found total colony losses averaged
29.6 percent over the last eight-year span.
Over the past few years, bee populations have been dying at a rate
the U.S. government says is economically unsustainable. Honey bees
pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed
by Americans, including apples, almonds, watermelons and beans,
according to government reports.
Scientists, consumer groups and bee keepers say the devastating rate
of bee deaths is due at least in part to the growing use of
pesticides sold by agrichemical companies to boost yields of staple
crops such as corn.
They pointed to a study issued on May 9 by the Harvard School of
Public Health that found two widely used neonicotinoids — a class of
insecticide — appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies over
the winter, particularly during colder winters.
"With the damning evidence mounting, pesticide companies can no
longer spin their way out of this crisis," said Michele Simon, a
public health lawyer who specializes in food issues.
Monsanto Co, DuPont, Syngenta AG, Bayer AG and other agrichemical
companies say the bees are being killed by other factors, such as
mites. Bayer and Syngenta make the pesticides in question, while
Monsanto and DuPont have used them as coatings for the seed they
Monsanto-owned BeeLogics, a bee health company, is one of the
collaborators in the partnership with USDA that issued the report on
Thursday, which appeared to lay much of the blame for die-offs on
the "varroa mite," an Asian bee parasite first found in the United
States in 1987.
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"Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only
demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee heath has
become," said Jeff Pettis, research leader at the USDA's
agricultural research service.
Pettis said viruses, parasites, nutrition problems and pesticides
are all factors.
Last year, the European Union said it would ban neonicotinoids used
for corn and other crops, as well as on home lawns and gardens.
Similar constraints in the United States could cost manufacturers
millions of dollars.
The survey results reported are based on information self-reported
by U.S. bee keepers. About 7,200 bee keepers who managed 564,522
colonies in October 2013, responded to the survey. Those bee keepers
represent 21.7 percent of the country’s 2.6 million colonies.
In January, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would fund
more than $450,000 in research projects to reduce the use of
pesticides that may harm honeybees
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City. Editing by Andre Grenon)
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