EDITORIAL: Action needed to save the bees

2017-05-19 | The Salem News

May 18--Bees -- honeybees in particular -- are serious business, and they are in trouble.

Pollination of flowers and crops by honeybees is responsible for one in every three bites of food we eat. Bees and other pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the U.S. economy, by enabling consistent, quality food production. And here in Massachusetts, bees support the agriculture industry, which produces almost half a billion dollars in products -- mostly food -- every year, according to the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association, known as Mass Bee.

But bees are in trouble. The finely tuned senses and spatial awareness they need to travel long distances collecting pollen and nectar from blossoms is often damaged by neonicotinoid pesticides. Bees also are threatened by pervasive Varroa destructor mites, which also cause brain development disorders, and entire hives are often killed by the mysterious colony collapse disorder.

The move to large-scale mono-crop farming in recent decades has also reduced, in some areas, the availability of the flowers honeybees rely on, forcing them to travel farther for food -- and always relying on their highly tuned senses, if not damaged by neonicotinoids.

If we lose bees on a grand scale, much of our food supply will be at risk. It's that simple.

State Rep. Carolyn Dykema, a Democrat from Holliston, sponsored House Bill 2113, An Act to Protect Massachusetts Pollinators. The bill has support from at least 135 House members and senators; the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association; the Sierra Club; Audubon Society; Environment Massachusetts; and the Toxic Action Center, among others.

The bill seeks to "limit the use of the neonicotinoid class of systemic pesticides to licensed pesticide applicators only," according to Mass Bee. Maryland and Connecticut have passed similar bills; Walmart and True Value recently said they would stop selling products that contain neonicotinoids, according to the Mass Bee newsletter.

"An increasing body of research raises concerns that neonicotinoid pesticides may play a role in declining bee health," Dykema said, noting that Europe has placed a two-year moratorium on their use.

In filing the bill, Dykema said it "takes a precautionary approach by limiting use to licensed applicators" and restricts non-agricultural pesticide use during the time when flowers and trees are blooming, which is when bees and other pollinators are most active.

The bill also requires licensed applicators of pesticides with neonicotinoids to provide property owners with information about the risks to bees and other pollinators, as well as a list of non-neonicotinoids that could be used. In addition, the bill would bar the sale of blooming or flowering plants, plant material or seeds that had been treated with neonicotinoids.

In general, H2113 aims to limit use of these pesticides to licensed applicators, and ensures consumers are made aware about use of neonicotinoids and their presence in seeds, plants or pesticide application services, so those consumers can opt out if they choose.

In a letter of support for Dykema's bill, the Mass. Beekeepers Association called it "a sensible legislative restraint on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides which are harmful to honey bees."

Mass Bee also noted "67 percent of the Legislature is a co-sponsor of the bill and it has bipartisan support."

No one is arguing that severe limits in one state on use of pesticides that are harmful to bees will solve this problem of the declining bee population. But support for H2113 and the education effort that comes with it can persuade more people and companies -- and maybe send that influence into other states -- about the need to save the bees.

For more about the effort to protect bees and our agricultural system, visit the Mass Bee website www.massbee.org.