Ky. voices: Pesticides are not what bees need

August 3, 2013 

The largest mass death of bumblebees ever recorded in the United States occurred June 19th, 2013 in a Target parking lot in Oregon. Over 50,000 bees were killed after blooming linden trees were sprayed with a systemic pesticide called Safari, a neonicotinoid insecticide. An estimated 30 million bees died July 1st in Elmwood, Ontario, Canada after the planting of corn seed that was coated with neonicotinoid pesticides. The U.S. honeybee population has been on the decline for years, suffering annual death rates of 30 percent and more. This widespread bee shortage is swiftly becoming one of the biggest threats to the US agriculture industry. A recent United Nations report states 70% of America's food sources are pollinated by bees with global economic value of these crops as high as $200 billion a year.

The Save America's Pollinators Act of 2013 (H.R. 2692), has recently been introduced by Representatives John Conyers (D, MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D, OR), and co-sponsored by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D, CA) and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D, NH) calling for the suspension of the class of systemic pesticides known as neonicotinoids until a full review of scientific evidence indicates they are safe and a field study demonstrates no harmful impacts to pollinators.

The synthetic classes of neonicotinoid insecticides are the most widely used insecticides in the world. A recent study by David Goulson, PhD, of the University of Sussex calls into question the economic benefits of neonicotinoids along with their high propensity to leach into groundwater, streams, and ponds as some can persist in soil up to 19 years.

As present-day commercial agriculture escalates, the demand for huge numbers of pollinators also escalates. The phenomenon of annual bee deaths has been termed "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD) and scientists confirm that we are getting closer to the point were pollination demands cannot be met.

The problem extends not just to the commercialized honeybee but also to native pollinators. Pollinators face an increasingly hostile environment as culture dictates the desirability of a manicured landscape on golf courses, parks, corporate grounds, school grounds, suburban yards and city parks, where pollinator habitat is not acceptable. Pesticide and herbicide use on farms may be regulated, but homeowners and groundskeepers use many home and garden products containing neonicotinoid pesticides with abandon. Suburban sprawl has further exacerbated habitat and biodiversity losses.

The planet Earth provides the foundation for our life-support system, the biosphere in which all life exists. The activities of all these organisms together maintain the atmosphere, break down wastes, store and filter water, pollinate our crops, provide us with food, and protect us from disease. Increasing human population and expanding economic development is destroying our biological resources. Our society has learned to focus on short-term solutions for our environmental problems and not to consider what long-term consequences may be ours when making these decisions. Our economic policies do not recognize the value of biodiversity over the value of increased profits. For most of the past 28 years political policy makers have used a conservative point of view to calm fears over resource degradation, believing that man's ingenuity will find a solution or we will adapt because history has showed us that we always do, however, this does not make capitalistic exploitation of these resources sanctionable. Better management of natural resources, fairer economic, social, and political environments are all needed to avert potential devastation.

Declines in the health and population of pollinators in the United States and globally could pose a significant threat to the integrity of biodiversity, to global food webs, and to human health. If losses continue it could threaten the economic viability of the bee pollination industry. Honeybees will not disappear entirely, but the cost of honeybee pollination services will continue to rise dramatically and those increased costs will ultimately be passed on to consumers through soaring food costs.

The Save America's Pollinators Act of 2013 (H.R. 2692) can help put in place the critically necessary processes to evaluate pesticides on a timely cycle and suspend those that are damaging the long-term viability of our environment. Please contact your representatives to voice your concern and support the Save America's Pollinator Act.

Mary Sheldon is an undergraduate studying environmental sociology at Eastern Kentucky University.

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