The Environmental Protection Agency, CropLife America, National Cotton Council and others are urging the use of sound science as solutions are sought on what to do about declines in the health of honey bees, the world’s most prolific pollinator.

The pollinator health issue has become a big concern for the global crop protection industry as of late due to recent claims that agrochemicals are primarily responsible for declining honeybee health and for a malady known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). Several incidents and studies involving neonicotinoid seed treatments has also focused more attention on the impact of pesticides on bee health.

Beekeepers and environmental groups have subsequently called for fungicides, insecticides and herbicides to have stricter labeling, which could severely limit a producer’s ability to control several key pests.

Speaking at a joint summer meeting of the American Cotton Producers of the NCC and the Cotton Foundation, Tom Steeger, senior scientist at EPA, said studies that point exclusively to pesticides as the cause of pollinator health declines do not tell the entire story. He said pollinator health involves a very complex interaction of variables including cultural practices, monocultures, diseases and parasites, habitat loss, nutrition, management practices of beekeepers, moving bees large distances and large numbers of bees being kept in a particular area and overwhelming that particular habitat.

Pesticides are a factor, and do show up in the pollinator environment, however. “In 2010, a two year survey of 23 states and one province in Canada, across several agricultural cropping systems using pesticides, reported 121 different pesticides and metabolites within 87 samples in wax, pollen, bees and associated hives,” Steeger said.

A Federal, Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act scientific advisory panel is meeting Sept. 11-14, in Arlington, Va., to start developing a pollinator risk assessment framework, Steeger noted. EPA has posted a white paper in support of the Proposed Risk Assessment Process for Bees on the public docket at http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2012-0543-0004. The white paper discloses how EPA plans to redefine its risk assessment on pollinators. There are opportunities to comment on the site.

Iain Kelley, with Bayer CropScience and a member of CropLife Pollination Issues Management Team, says too many flawed studies on pesticides and pollinators are ending up as sound bites in news stories. “And that seems to be a very well-organized anti-pesticide campaign. It is certainly delaying the registration of new products as well as the re-registration of older products.

Kelley cited an article in Science magazine “which was a well-conducted study. The bees were given a daily dose of neonicotinoid in one trip out in the field, and there were significant number that didn’t find their way back to the hive. But the dose was the equivalent of chugging a bottle of wine in 10 minutes, and then finding your way back to the hive. It’s not the way things happen out there.”

An incident in Germany involving a planter and a dust cloud containing neonicotinoid residue didn’t help pesticide’s side of the story. Apparently, wind carried the dust cloud, which had sloughed off a poorly applied seed treatment, to nearby hives, killing bees and raising news headlines across Europe.

In France, the agricultural use of neonicotinoids was banned after they were blamed for pollinator health declines. However, the decline continued after the ban, and now France is trying to bring back the product.

Undoubtedly, the pollinator industry and U.S. farmers have a reason to work together on the issue, Kelley noted. About 70 of the top 100 U.S. crops, including 750,000 acres of almonds in California, rely on pollination, to some extent. The U.S. pollinator industry comprises about 1.6 million of the 2.6 million hives in the nation.