Last week, President Obama issued an executive order to expand protection for our oceans and today, he directed federal agencies to "reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels" of bees, birds, bats, and butterflies – as "critical contributors to our nation’s economy, food system, and environmental health."
As you know, bees, bats and butterflies in particular, are under siege and need emergency action. We must "take immediate steps to address these alarming declines," he says. "pointing to last year’s lowest-ever numbers of Monarchs – "there is a risk this iconic migration could end." About 30% of honey bee colonies have been lost every year since neonic pesticides were introduced, and native bees are also effected. Several species of formerly common bats are being decimated by white-nose syndrome, now found in 25 states.
Obama is directing the Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA Administrator to co-chair a Pollinator Health Task
Force to focus federal efforts on research and recovery of pollinator populations. He is giving them a deadline of 180 days to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, including a Pollinator Research Action Plan that examines how various stressors – pesticides, pathogens and management practices – contribute to the decline.
He is also directing federal agencies to substantially expand pollinator habitat on federal lands.
The USDA announced a small $8 million in funding to help ranchers and farmers increase acreage for pollinators.
EPA, USDA In Awkward Position
The EU banned neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides, but EPA refuses to do so. While habitat loss and disease play a role in bee loss, the science clearly points to neonics as the major cause of decline.
Just today, researchers called for a complete global phase-out of neonicotinoids. After reviewing 800 studies in the most comprehensive effort to date, "The evidence is clear: neonics are harming our pollinating insects and could be causing damage to many other species and habitats," says Vanessa Amaral-Rogers, one of the scientists.
Widespread planting of GMO crops is another prime culprit – in addition to wiping out nectar sources for bees and butterflies, "The biological impact of glyphosate are consistent with all of the known conditions related to colony collapse in bees," says plant pathologist Dr. Don Huber.
"It’s bad enough that Monsanto produces GMO crops that screw with honeybees’ gastrointestinal health, making them more susceptible to disease. But here’s the kicker: Monsanto also treats its seeds with neonicotinoids," says Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. Bayer and Syngenta are the other main manufacturers of these pesticides.
Indeed, bee colonies began disappearing in 2004 – just one year after the EPA allowed neonicotinoids on the market. Amazingly, they were approved by "conditional registration," which expedites pesticides to market without meaningful research. Over two-thirds of pesticides introduced since 2000 have been approved this way.
Unlike other pesticides, they are absorbed by the entire plant. Even at low levels, they impair foraging ability, navigation, learning behavior and suppress the immune system, making them more susceptible to pathogens and disease, explains Beyond Pesticides. They are just as toxic to birds, butterflies and aquatic ecosystems.
Sadly, wildflowers sold at major retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s are pre-treated with neonics!
"While organically managed farms prove these pesticides aren’t necessary, EPA has yet to take meaningful action to reduce exposure to these harmful chemicals," they say. "Mounting scientific evidence requires an urgent response that necessitates removing these chemicals from the market."
A lawsuit has been filed against EPA because of its continued registration of these chemicals by Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Health and four beekeepers. Incredibly, even in the face of this evidence, EPA proposes expanding their use.
They are also trying to get legislation passed – the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, introduced last year by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). It would suspend use of neonicotinoid pesticides until a full review of scientific evidence and a field study demonstrates no harm to pollinators. So far, the bill has 68 cosponsors.
Please urge your Representative to co-sponsor this bill: