News / Science & Technology

US Pressed to Restrict Pesticides, Save Bees

Neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid is the active ingredient in many retail insecticides such as these. (VOA/T.Banse)
Neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid is the active ingredient in many retail insecticides such as these. (VOA/T.Banse)
Tom Banse
This is the time of year when farmers in the northern hemisphere count on bees and other insects to pollinate orchards, vegetables and berry fields. But what has the beekeeping world abuzz this season is the continuing phenomenon of mass honeybee deaths — and how governments on two continents are responding to them.
 
U.S. regulators on Thursday released a scientific report blaming the widespread decline of bees on the combined effects of parasites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition and chemical pesticides. For its part, the European Commission announced plans this week to impose a two-year moratorium beginning in December on the use of three popular pesticides judged to pose high risk to bees. Beekeepers and environmental groups are pushing governments in North America to go in that direction, too.
 
Beekeeper Mark Emrich checks his hives near Rochester, Wash., April 2013 (T.Banse/VOA).Beekeeper Mark Emrich checks his hives near Rochester, Wash., April 2013 (T.Banse/VOA).
x
Beekeeper Mark Emrich checks his hives near Rochester, Wash., April 2013 (T.Banse/VOA).
Beekeeper Mark Emrich checks his hives near Rochester, Wash., April 2013 (T.Banse/VOA).
For the past decade, many beekeepers around the world have been plagued by unexplained die-offs in their hives. It recently happened to Mark Emrich, who raises bees on his small farm near Olympia, Washington.
 
“I was doing great until about five weeks ago,” he said. “Then I came down and opened up the hives and I had five dead boxes of bees. That was a huge hit."
 
He lost one third of his production.
 
"It is very hard to deal with bee losses. They are kind of like your little livestock and you try to really manage them and take care of them the best you can. When they die off, you feel that you've failed."
 
Warnings about pesticides in the garden
 
Emrich sports a bushy beard and a ball cap with the logo of the Washington State Beekeepers Association. He's the group's president. Even before the die-off in his hives, he was writing letters to government officials, asking that some potentially risky and widely used pesticides be pulled from store shelves.
 
While U.S. and Canadian environmental health agencies have both announced they will reevaluate the registration of pesticides in question, those processes are slated to take years. Emrich worries that mounting bee colony losses means he can't wait that long, so he and his fellow beekeepers are petitioning county and state governments, calling for local rules to restrict home and garden use of common bug killers, rose and flower treatments, and grub controls.
 
"We have people who are using it who don't understand all the implications, and the labeling is inadequate as far as what it actually will kill,” Emrich explained. “So basically, the idea is at least we'll get it out of the hands of the general public."
 
The insecticides in question belong to a class called neonicotinoids. "Neonics," for short, appear in more than a hundred different garden products sold under global brand names such as Bayer, Ortho and Scotts. While a range of studies have shown significant adverse effects on bees exposed to high doses in the lab, separate studies using more realistic field conditions show minimal harm or are inconclusive.
 
Threats from many directions
 
Pesticide makers argue that banning neonics would not save a single hive. Barb Glenn, who oversees science and regulatory affairs for the industry association CropLife America, pointed out, "If we use these products according to the label, then we don't see an effect on pollinators — or honey bees — that are contiguous to these fields where we're using these products."
 
Glenn says it is in her industry's best interest to safeguard bees because agriculture needs pollinators to thrive. In her view, many factors conspire against bee survival: diseases, parasites, the availability of habitat, the practices of the beekeeper, and their own nutrition.
 
“Pesticide use is also a part of that continuum," she added.
 
Glenn's list looks almost the same as ones compiled by independent researchers with Britain’s Insect Pollinators Initiative, and by scientists at Oregon and Washington state Universities.
 
WSU entomologist Steve Sheppard said a lot of new research is focusing on the pesticide angle.

"There's not a consensus I think in the scientific community that the levels that are found in agricultural crops, for example, have been directly linked to colony losses," he said. "But some countries — in Europe, for example — have taken a more prudent approach to not use those pesticides until they feel all of the data are in."
 
That's also the gist of a petition for rulemaking before the Washington State Department of Agriculture. The department's initial response was to ask all affected parties to send in their best science. The state plans to announce in early June whether it sees enough evidence to draft tighter rules for home and garden bug killers.
 
Meanwhile, a coalition of national environmental groups has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to suspend registration of two neonic insecticides.

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Drake from: USA
May 11, 2013 7:56 AM
Europe is moving in the right direction while the US government is too busy protecting Monsanto from lawsuits, while the bees keep dying.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs