(New throughout, adds response from environmental groups, other
details of plan)
By Ros Krasny
WASHINGTON, June 20 The White House on Friday
announced a federal strategy to reverse a rapid decline in the
number of honey bees and other pollinators in the United States
that poses a threat to billions of dollars in crops.
In recent years, bees have died 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, lemons, broccoli,
avocados and carrots.
Crops such as almonds, California's second most valuable
agriculture commodity, are almost exclusively pollinated by
"Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in
value to agricultural crops each year in the United States," the
White House said in a statement.
The contribution of native wild pollinators such as bumble
bees were valued at $9 billion in 2009.
In May, an annual report from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture and the "Bee Informed Partnership," an industry
group, estimated total losses of managed honey bee colonies at
23 percent over the winter of 2013-14, the latest in a series of
Numbers of monarch butterflies, another pollinator, have
slumped as well.
"The problem is serious, and poses a significant challenge
that needs to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of our
food production systems," the White House said.
The recent loss of honey bee colonies is thought to be
caused by factors including a loss of natural forage and
inadequate diets, mite infestations and diseases, loss of
genetic diversity, and exposure to certain pesticides.
Bees have also been subject to a condition called colony
collapse disorder (CCD) in which there is a rapid, unexpected
and catastrophic loss of bees in a hive.
President Barack Obama directed federal agencies to use
research, land management, education and public/private
partnerships to advance honey bee and other pollinator health
But the environmental group Friends of the Earth said the
beekeeper in chief should have taken action against
neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides chemically similar to
nicotine that has been linked to bee deaths.
"The administration should prevent the release and use of
these toxic pesticides until determined safe," said Friends of
the Earth president Erich Pica.
The upscale grocery chain Whole Foods Markets in 2013
launched a campaign to support protection of bees. It
distributed photographs of the denuded store shelves possible
if bees were to disappear.
Under Obama's plan the Environmental Protection Agency and
USDA will lead a multi-agency task force to develop a pollinator
health strategy and action plan within six months.
As part of the plan, the USDA announced $8 million in
funding for farmers and ranchers in five states who establish
new habitats for honey bee populations.
The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign has
declared June 16-22 "pollinator week" in the United States.
Obama's move, the group said, "is the result of a nearly
20-year campaign to increase awareness and all action for
(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing
by Richard Chang and David Gregorio)