Tammy Horn: Farm bill offers little regulation of pesticides that are killing bees

February 14, 2014 

Tammy Horn is president of the Kentucky State Beekeepers Association.

After three years of wrangling, the United States has a new five-year farm bill.

As president of two regional bee associations, I have watched as the leaders of the richest nation on Earth have grappled with price supports, food and heating assistance, as well as country-of-origin labeling restrictions, market stabilization policies and other complex policy issues.

The $956.4 billion package eliminates billions in direct-subsidy payments to farmers and $8 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding. In place of direct subsidies, a comprehensive crop insurance program will be adopted.

There is focus on conservation programs, including habitat programs for pollinators. There are mandatory research funds for which beekeepers may apply. These are all good things.

Organic food and vegan advocate Elizabeth Kucinich, writing for the Huffington Post, said, "Ultimately, food safety, animal welfare, sustainable agriculture and environmental communities united and achieved progress this year."

But here is what is bad — insidiously and eerily bad — about the new law. There is virtually no mention of pesticide regulation.

The take-home message from the 2014 farm bill is that I have to accept that my nation's specialty-crop and big agriculture growers will kill my bees.

I know this: Every single bee now brings in, on average, six different pesticides in the pollen.

I know this: 2013 is recorded as the worst year — ever — for honey production.

I know this: In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency fined a Florida citrus grower $1,300 for spraying pesticides in broad daylight to prevent citrus greening, thereby causing 1,300 hives to die.

That's basically $1 a hive. Census records from the 1890s valued hives at $4 each, by way of comparison.

My only recourse, if I don't want to be bankrupt, is to buy crop insurance and start over.

I'm being asked to accept the fact that my nation will kill my bees, if not in the short term, then most certainly the long term.

Furthermore, I am being asked to pay for that by buying an insurance policy to cover bees about to die — year after year after year.

The 2014 farm bill ignores one of the most beautiful and basic of plot lines taken from Disney's Wings of Life movie: "Among the billions of intersections with insects and plant life, life generates itself over and over again. This is the ultimate love story, the story that feeds the world."

I wish the law would have started with that premise; instead, it ignores it.

A showing of The Wings of Life is a part of the 2014 Good Foods Board Film Series and will be shown free Saturday, Feb. 22 at 1 p.m m. and on Monday, Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Public Library Farish Theatre.

Tammy Horn is president of the Kentucky State Beekeepers Association.

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