This One is for the Bees

9 mins read
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

My last call to action was for the birds, and today’s is for the bees. We need to stop killing our pollinators with pesticides.

Even the Trump Department of Agriculture, in an article dated June 2019, acknowledges a problem, and I quote from the USDA Web site:

In the U.S., more than one-third of all crop production — 90 crops ranging from nuts to berries to flowering vegetables — requires insect pollination. Managed honeybee colonies are our primary pollinators, adding at least $15 billion a year [to production values] by increasing yields and helping to ensure superior-quality harvests.

However, … the number of honeybee hives in this country has decreased from 6 million in the 1940s to about 2.5 million today.

The USDA did not mention recent and huge losses. In the 2018-19 winter, U.S. beekeepers lost nearly 40% of their honeybee colonies, the worst reported winter hive loss on record.

The above USDA article says losses are caused “primarily by biological and environmental stressors.” It also says the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service is conducting research “to understand the effects of pesticides on colonies.”

Those effects aren’t exactly a mystery even now (see below).

Meanwhile, we have a window of opportunity to stop, at least temporarily or even permanently, the use of one class of pesticides known to kill honeybees — plus wild bees and other pollinators. I refer to neonicotinoids (or neonics for fewer keystrokes).

The Environmental Protection Agency is required to reconsider the registrations of neonics every 15 years. The EPA is at that point now and must consult the public; we have an April 3 comment deadline. 

In my comments, I argued that EPA should not reauthorize the use of the neonics under consideration because the risks and proven harms to pollinators do not justify their continued use, either to treat seeds, treat soil or spray plants, especially given that there is research showing the neonics aren’t even especially effective.

If you agree with me and wish to comment, here is help with talking points:

  • Two separate 2017 studies, one in Canada and one centered on bees in the U.K., Germany and Hungary, found that neonics kill bees, but slowly. They poison bees’ nervous systems and impair their natural defenses against illness, thus tainting hives and shortening lives. The tainted hives tend to kill the queen bees. With no queens, there are no eggs and, hence, no next generation of bees.
  • A 2017 Swiss study found traces of neonics in 75% of honey samples worldwide — but a higher 86% of the samples from North America.
  • In 2017, Purdue University research on neonics found “no benefit of the insecticidal seed treatments in terms of crop yield” to U.S. corn growers, and the EPA in 2014 found that, for U.S. soybean farmers, most neonicotinoid seed treatments were no better for yield than doing no pest control at all.

Further, in a 2018 global assessment of 200 scientific studies, the International Task Force on Systemic Pesticides found that neonicotinoids had inflicted serious damage to birds, pollinators and other insects over the previous two decades without generally increasing yields.

  • In 2018, the European Union permanently banned outdoor uses of three neonics — imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam — after the European Food Safety Authority confirmed their risks to honeybees and wild bees.

With healthy and numerous bees, as mentioned, we protect our food supplies (which include domestic animals that need plants, too). 

Through their role in the life cycles of countless plants, bees (and other pollinators) also support production of the world’s oils, fibers and raw materials; prevent soil erosion; increase carbon sequestration; protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife.

About making comments, five neonics are up for consideration, but separately: acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. So just file the same comments in five places, OR choose No. 4 below, imidacloprid, because it is the most commonly used, but mention all five neonics in your comments.

One other thing — Congress

There also is pending legislation in Congress to curtail use of these pesticides, as follows. 

  • Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2019 (HR1337), which would require the EPA to suspend registration of all neonic insecticides and refrain from authorizing any others, pending new studies. The EPA would be required to establish a Pollinator Protection Board to develop new independent reviews for pesticides that pose a threat to pollinators and their habitats.

The EPA, with the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, would have to monitor and report on the health and population status of native bees and other pollinators.

  • Protect Our Refuges Act (HR2854/S1856), which would prohibit the use of neonics in any national wildlife refuge. This bill is in the pipeline because the Trump administration overturned an Obama era prohibition on the use of neonics in national wildlife refuges, undermining the whole concept of a refuge.

If you agree with me that neonics are an unacceptable hazard, or maybe in some cases not sufficiently vetted, I offer these sample postcard-sized letters (one for the House, one for the Senate) to inspire communications with your members of Congress. Use whatever style suits you — snail mail (postcards for quicker delivery), the phone or your favorite electronic communications.


Dear Representative:
I am a constituent concerned about the need to protect pollinators because they are so crucial to food production. For this reason, I support passage of two bills to curtail use of neonicotinoid insecticides that kill bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

The bills are Protect Our Refuges Act (HR2854), which would prohibit use of neonicotinoids in any national wildlife refuge, and Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2019 (HR1337), which would require the EPA to suspend registration of neonicotinoid insecticides.

Thank you for supporting these bills.

Dear Senator:
I am a constituent concerned about the need to protect pollinators due to their central place in the food chain. For this reason, I support passage of Protect Our Refuges Act (S1856) to curtail use of neonicotinoid insecticides that kill bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

This measure would prohibit use of neonicotinoids in any national wildlife refuge. It seems only reasonable that wildlife — in this case, pollinators, which are vital to food production — should be free of insecticides in our refuges.

Please help take this bill over the finish line, and thank you.

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Born and raised in Iowa. Earned journalism degree at University of Iowa and masters degree at Teachers College Columbia University. Spent career as investigative reporter and editor, mostly with travel trade publications. Now retired, but writing on a freelance basis.

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