“All colonies in the United States are showing health issues, and certainly colonies would not survive without beekeepers,” Kelley said. “It’s not as much of a problem in other parts of the world presently. In Australia, which has a very similar type of agriculture as the United States, you’re not seeing that type of problem.”

Kelley noted that this past winter, there was much lower percentage of bees lost than in previous years. “Certainly it’s not a trend yet, but hopefully will see that continue.”

Kelley says the varroa mite, a parasitic insect, could emerge as a bigger factor in the pollinator decline. “Researchers have seen a huge change in the virus population in hives when the varroa mite moves into an isolated area.”

Don Parker, manager of integrated pest management for the NCC, says the goal of the crop protection industry and other ag organizations, including a task force formed to study the issue, “is to understand how to improve colony health. USDA and ARS have pointed out in studies that stress and nutritional factors are contributing factors. We want to make sure that we understand the big picture, and not just point a finger at pesticides.”

Doing so could head off the potential for some onerous label changes or restrictions currently being considered or in actual use.

For example, wording on the current label for Bidrin reads, “This product is toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment or residues on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product if bees are visiting the treatment area.”

Another label contained this advisory language, “In order to minimize impact on honey bees when treating cotton, consider making applications in the early morning or early evening when bees are less likely to be visiting the treatment area. To protect bees and other pollinators outside of the treatment area, this product should not be applied under conditions that could result in excessive drift to neighboring areas where bees are expected to be actively foraging.”

Beekeepers are also urging label language to be more specific, such as restricting applications to nighttime only, when bees are not in a field, or not spraying fields when flowers or nectar are present.

“Think about what that means about our ability to protect against plant bugs,” Parker said. “Depending on how this risk assessment is developed, this could have a major impact on any products we use to protect our yields.”

 “There is a need for producers and beekeepers to work together to identify what works best for both,” Steeger said. “Pollinator protection is not an issue that we should ignore. It’s not going away. We need to be engaged and work for the common solutions at local levels, rather than through national mandates that do not consider the different regional and state needs.

“Our regulatory efforts are going to be based on science that enables us to defend the actions that we take in terms of mitigating the potential effects that pesticides may be having on pollinators, amphibians or any type of taxa that are potentially affected.”

Here’s an article in the American Bee Journal which argues for the use of sound science in this process. http://www.americanbeejournal.com/site/epage/79414_828.htm.