New Report on Honey Bee Health Released

A comprehensive scientific report on honey bee health has been released by USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the report - there are multiple factors playing a role in honey bee colony declines. These factors include parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan notes there is an important link between the health of American agriculture and the health of our honeybees for the country's long-term agricultural productivity. She says USDA, the department's research partners and key stakeholders will be engaged in addressing this complex challenge. EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe says the report released Thursday is the product of unprecedented collaboration. He says the collaborators must continue to work in concert. Perciasepe says the report makes it clear that significant progress has been made - but there is much work to be done to protect the honey bee population. An estimated one-third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination - mainly by honey bees. Pollination contributes to crop production worth 20 to 30-billion dollars in agricultural production each year in the U.S.

When it comes to parasites and disease - the parasitic Varroa mite is recognized as the major factor underlying colony loss in the U.S. and other countries. According to the report - there is widespread resistance to the chemicals beekeepers use to control mites within the hive. New virus species have been found in the U.S. - and several have been associated with Colony Collapse Disorder. The report also finds that U.S. honeybee colonies need increased genetic diversity. Genetic variation improves bees thermoregulation, disease resistance and worker productivity. The report suggests emphasizing traits such as hygienic behavior in honey bee breeding.

Nutrition is also said to have a major impact on individual bee and colony longevity. A nutrition-poor diet can make bees more susceptible to harm from disease and parasites. Bees need better forage and a variety of plants to support colony health. The suggestion is for federal and state partners to consider actions affecting land management to maximize available nutritional forage to promote and enhance good bee health and to protect bees by keeping them away from pesticide-treated fields.

The report also identifies a need for improved collaboration and information sharing - as well as for additional research to determine the risks presented by pesticides. According to the report - there is a need for informed and coordinated communication between growers and beekeepers and effective collaboration between stakeholders on practices to protect bees from pesticides. Beekeepers emphasized the need for accurate and timely bee kill incident reporting, monitoring and enforcement. As for the research need - the report says the most pressing questions relate to determining actual pesticide exposures and effects of pesticides to bees in the field and the potential for impacts on bee health and productivity of whole honey bee colonies.

[The report is available at http://www.usda.gov/documents/ReportHoneyBeeHealth.pdf]

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