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Bee Loss Numbers Worse than Reported, Threat to Food Supply Remains

May 15th, 2014
Center for Food Safety

New survey data does not paint full picture of devastating bee losses

Today, the Bee Informed Partnership, with support from the Apiary Inspectors of America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, released the results from its annual survey of honey bee colony losses. The national survey assessed the losses over the winter of 2013/2014, and concluded that beekeepers across the U.S. suffered average hive losses of 23 percent. However, deeper investigation reveals that the numbers are more troubling than has been reported by most news outlets.

“Today’s report offers little encouragement . There is more to the story than just this one number,” said Larissa Walker, who spearheads Center for Food Safety’s pollinator campaign. “The reality is that the vast majority of honey bee colonies across the country are still suffering above-average winter losses and unusually high losses in the spring and summer seasons. Year round, beekeepers are fighting an uphill battle to keep their hives alive and viable.”

The numbers released today represent only 21 percent of the nation’s honey bee colonies, and are potentially inflated by the recent spike in urban beekeeping, which is not reflective of problems faced by commercial beekeepers depended on by the agricultural community.

“It is imperative that the United States take immediate steps to suspend the use of bee-killing pesticides like neonicotinoids,” added Walker.

The overwintering numbers released today are significantly higher than the normally acceptable rate of 10-15 percent. Additionally, according to a researcher quoted in TIME Magazine, 20 percent of honey bee colonies died during the spring and summer period last year, a particularly troubling figure because colonies typically thrive during the summer months.

Beekeepers are taking extensive and expensive measures to ensure the losses aren’t even higher than they are, exhausting all resources to keep their hives alive.

“The bees are on life support and the beekeepers are that life support. But we are losing,” said Tom Theobald, Colorado beekeeper and plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by Center for Food Safety against EPA.

Pollinators like bees are responsible for one in every three bites of food. While there are a multitude of factors affecting honey bees and other pollinators, including habitat loss, poor nutrition, pathogens and parasites, scientists have increasingly linked poor honey bee health and pollinator losses to the indiscriminate use of a certain class of systemic insecticides called neonicotinoids. Today’s numbers do not undermine the need to suspend the widespread use of neonicotinoids in the United States, as has been done in Europe.

Center for Food Safety has been heavily involved in the effort to protect pollinators, and our food supply, from these harmful chemicals.  In March 2013, CFS filed a lawsuit on behalf of several beekeepers and public interest groups against the EPA, seeking suspension of two highly toxic neonicotinoids and charging that agency’s overall handling of the chemicals has been flawed and unlawful. CFS has also pushed for stronger action from Congress through the introduction of the Saving America's Pollinators Act.

 

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