Is honey bee health a real concern, or is it being blown out of proportion? The answer to both is yes.
When neonicotinoids were first introduced to U.S. agriculture, even EPA praised their safety and effectiveness. Now EPA and U.S. agriculture are defending the class of insecticide against recent declines in honey bee health.
Concern comes from legitimately concerned groups, along with the usual anti-ag suspects dedicated to always blowing things out of proportion.
Most of the latter blame neonicotinoids alone for honey bee health declines, even though studies indicate a combination of contributing stressors, including varroa mites, loss of habitat, poor quality of queens due to limited diversity and pesticides.
Pollinator health is fast becoming the buzz in agriculture, and an issue that could affect it for years to come. In fact, changes are already moving across the agricultural landscape, which could affect how chemicals are applied and even the release of new products.
For example, EPA recently announced new label requirements for foliar use of neonicotinoid products. The label for cotton requires they not be applied when bees are foraging or until flowering is complete and all petals have fallen off. There are a number of exceptions, including allowing applications after sunset when temperatures are below 55 degrees.
In a typical kneejerk reaction to so-called studies linking neonicotinoids to pollinator health declines, the Sierra Club launched a campaign in Canada asking that the country’s pest management regulatory agency ban the use of all neonicotinoid insecticides for all uses in Canada.
Recently, a lawsuit was filed challenging EPA’s registration of Dow’s new sulfoxaflor insecticide, a foliar product that is effective in control of plant bugs. The suit was filed by the Pollinator Stewardship Council, American Honey Producers Association, National Honey Bee Advisory Board, American Beekeeping Federation and a number of individuals.
Apparently, they would like for EPA and the crop protection industry to test new products until there’s no question of their safety. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the link between neonicotinoids and bee health declines may be exaggerated.
A recent study of neonicotinoid seed treatments by Mid-South entomologists indicates very little translocation of neonicotinoid residue from the soil to flowers of cotton plants. There is some indication that neonicotinoid particles sloughed off seed treatments can be vented into the atmosphere by planting equipment, which under certain circumstances can cause honey bee deaths. The agriculture industry is starting to look at mechanical solutions to this issue.
Agriculture is doing its part in other ways. One of many is an effort underway in Mississippi to develop a honeybee stewardship program which would provide operative standards that should exist between producers and beekeepers. The program resulted from dialogue between beekeepers and row crop producers.
Hopefully, these types of practical solutions will not be stung by the spread of misinformation.