A joint USDA/EPA report addressing the continuing mass die-offs of honeybees points to a wide range of causes. Those include parasites, disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.

Last October, experts from around the country gathered to assess the state of the science of honeybee health. The report is “the outcome of that conference,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, during a May 2 press conference.“In many ways it’s a landmark report … and represents the consensus of the scientific community on the challenges our honeybee populations are facing.”

Read the report here.  

The challenges are complex and, “as in most things biological, there is no smoking gun. The decline in pollinators we’ve observed in recent years is truly due to a whole host of factors. … It is imperative we take action to address the factors contributing to the decline of honeybees and the continuing impacts that our farmers and honey producers are facing.”

How vital are honeybees to U.S. agriculture? Every year, some $20 billion to $30 billion of agricultural U.S. production is dependent on pollination. Seventy percent of the crops Americans rely on for food are pollinated mainly by honeybees.

 

See Photo gallery: Honey bees run the world

 

How to address the problem?

“It will take all our stakeholders – the agricultural industry, beekeepers, researchers, the federal government and the public,” said Ramaswamy.

At the USDA, “we’re working to improve pollinator-friendly habitats on federal lands so beekeepers have access to good, nutritional forage for their hives. Millions of federal research dollars are supporting focused research projects related to honeybee health. … The USDA is conducting a national survey to identify honeybee pests, which will guide our research and mitigation recommendations as we go forward. We’re also working with farmers and ranchers to integrate pollinator habitat into their land. Just in the past four years, we’ve incorporated pollinator enhancements in the conservation programs such as Environmental Quality Incentive Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Conservation Reserve Program.”

The good news, said Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe,“is the report indicates there is a range of research and policy steps we can take to start to address these stressors.

Perciasepe pointed to the importance of education on the issues affecting honeybees but also said, “enforcement is important. Later this month, EPA will issue new enforcement guidance … to enhance investigations of bee kill incidents. We’ll also continue outreach to stakeholders to ensure all are aware of the many ways they can report bee kill incidents to EPA.”