Bees crucial to many crops still dying at worrisome rate: USDA

Thu May 15, 2014 8:06am EDT

A beekeeping expert shows a beehive honeycomb frame at the Apiarian Research Centre in Godollo, 25 km east of the Hungarian capital Budapest, on June 5, 2013.  REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

A beekeeping expert shows a beehive honeycomb frame at the Apiarian Research Centre in Godollo, 25 km east of the Hungarian capital Budapest, on June 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

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(Reuters) - Honey bees, crucial in the pollination of many U.S. crops, are still dying off at an worrisome rate, even though fewer were lost over the past winter, according to a government report issued on Thursday.

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 sell.

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.

"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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Comments (5)
nose2066 wrote:
Story says: “…appeared to lay much of the blame for die-offs on the “varroa mite,” an Asian bee parasite…”

If that is actually true, then the solution would be for farmers to set aside a small part of each farm for a “bee garden” to grow plants that contain natural oils that the bees use to repel mites. Lavender is an example of such a plant.

May 15, 2014 1:04pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
alowl wrote:
No problem. Between MERSA and the bee die off, there will be plenty of bodies to harvest in the near future. Of course, you’ll have to take the mark of the beast to get your 2 kilos of Soylent Green.

May 15, 2014 2:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Calfri wrote:
Of course CCD is a big problem, but the problem is not as broad as what’s often suggested by statistics. Fewer beekeepers, but larger ones, are disproportionately affected by CCD. I was told by an expert who’s often quoted in Reuters and elsewhere that some of these big beekeepers can experience say, a 90 percent loss, while others are unaffected. Sometimes, though, this fact gets obscured by statistics that average everything out, and makes it seem more inscrutable than it probably is. After all, it’s the really large beekeepers that do a lot of the migratory beekeeping, and whose hives are subjected to the most stress.

May 15, 2014 3:39pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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