Let's put pollinators over politics

One thing everyone can agree on is that pollinators are too vital to lose. Congress now has an opportunity to take action in the farm bill, an opportunity legislators shouldn’t pass up.

Maintaining healthy populations of honey bees and other pollinators is essential for the long-term success of American agriculture. In the U.S. they contribute to $20-30 billion in agricultural production annually and are responsible for pollinating 1/3 of the food we eat. Yet they have been on an alarming decline for over a decade, with some of the worst die-offs in recent years. These record-high bee losses are often associated with the syndrome known as “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) and have been linked to a variety of factors, including: habitat loss, pesticides, pathogens, parasites, and poor nutrition.

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A recent government-sponsored survey indicated that, on average, U.S. beekeepers lost 45.1 percent of the colonies in their operation during the winter of 2012/2013.  These extreme losses—the worst documented since the arrival of CCD—are a clear indication that deliberate action must be taken to protect honey bees and beekeeping operations across the country.

Honey bees are not the only pollinator at risk: the health of thousands of pollinating species is also jeopardized by the same stressors adversely impacting honey bees. Some of these species, like bumble bees, bats and butterflies are also suffering alarming population losses and are equally critical to agricultural production and healthy ecosystems. The loss of native pollinators poses a significant threat to agriculture, yet there is no thorough monitoring of these losses by Federal agencies.

Recognizing the need to take action, Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) offered a common-sense amendment to the farm bill, which passed by an overwhelming margin (273-149).  The provision, Sec. 11315 in the House-passed H.R.2642, would greatly improve federal coordination in addressing the dramatic decline of managed and native pollinators as well as direct the government to strengthen its monitoring, research and reporting on the health of pollinators including bees, birds, bats and other beneficial insects.

In October, over fifty organizations and companies joined Center for Food Safety in a letter to the farm bill conferees in support of the pollinator protection language, including the American Beekeeping Federation, American Bird Conservancy, American Honey Producers Association, National Farmers Union, National Wildlife Federation, Xerces Society, and many more.

Too much is at stake for Congress not to support pollinator protection in the farm bill. Thankfully, the U.S. House of Representatives is already on record as supporting the Hastings-Kaptur amendment that recognizes the importance of pollinators.  We hope that all members of the farm bill conference will recognize their importance too. 

Kimbrell is executive director of the Center for Food Safety.