Over 100 U.S. scientists have called on the Pollinator Task Force to avert the current environmental disaster and protect and promote bees and other pollinators. The task force was established by the USA in response to a presidential memorandum directed at federal agencies.
Pollinators contribute substantially to the economy of the United States and are vital to keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States. Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.
Pollinator losses have been severe. The number of migrating Monarch butterflies sank to the lowest recorded population level in 2013-14, and there is an imminent risk of failed migration. The continued loss of commercial honey bee colonies poses a threat to the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States, which could have profound implications for agriculture and food. Severe yearly declines create concern that bee colony losses could reach a point from which the commercial pollination industry would not be able to adequately recover. The loss of native bees, which also play a key role in pollination of crops, is much less studied, but many native bee species are believed to be in decline. Scientists believe that bee losses are likely caused by a combination of stressors, including poor bee nutrition, loss of forage lands, parasites, pathogens, lack of genetic diversity, and exposure to pesticides.
In contrast to Europe the United States federal agencies have failed to take any concrete action to tackle the decline of bees and other pollinators.
The scientists from diverse fields such as entomology, agronomy, ecology, ecotoxicology have asked the task force to take decisive action and place a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in the U.S., and increase investment, research and funding for growers to adopt alternatives.
In the letter, the scientists state, “While gaps do exist in knowledge around neonicotinoids, regulation with an eye to prevention of harm, precaution with regards to neonicotinoids, and commitment to safe and sustainable alternatives may well help to stem the tide of pollinator losses.”
“Bees have been quietly pollinating our crops for millennia, but now they need our help. It is vitally important that we take steps to reduce exposure of bees and other wildlife to these systemic, persistent neurotoxins,” said Dave Goulson, PhD, a bee expert and biology professor at the University of Sussex and a leader of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) global Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.
“The President’s Task Force should listen to the body of science that links pesticides to bee harm and bee declines,” said Jim Frazier, PhD, an emeritus entomology professor at Pennsylvania State University and commercial beekeeper advisor who specializes in chemical ecology. “These systemic pesticides are not only lethal to pollinators, but at low doses can disrupt critical brain functions and reduce their immunity — leaving them susceptible to common pathogens. The weight of the scientific evidence certainly incriminates neonicotinoids, in line with the 2013 European Food Safety Agency’s review of 800-plus publications that led to the current moratorium on certain neonicotinoids.”