By Judy LaBelle, Glynwood Senior Fellow
The European Commission and the USDA both reacted recently to concerns about Colony Collapse Disorder among bees and the neonicotinoid pesticides that have been implicated by many studies.
The contrast in the approaches to risk on the opposite sides of “the pond”–and the willingness to take action commensurate with seriousness of the environmental risk, even in the face of compelling but imperfect data–could not be more stark.
By December of this year, countries in the European Union must impose a ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on crops that attract bees. The ban followed on the heels of a European Food Safety Authority study that concluded that neonicotinoid-based pesticides present an “unacceptable” danger to bees. The ban, enacted by the European Commission in late April, will remain in place for two years, allowing time for further study of the pesticide’s impact.
Meanwhile, the United States has declined to take any regulatory action relating to these pesticides, citing the need for further study.
Last fall the Colony Collapse Disorder Steering Committee, composed of representatives of several federal agencies, convened the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health to “consider actions to promote health and mitigate risks to managed honeybees in the United States.” The USDA released the report from this Conference within days of the European Commission’s vote to impose a two-year ban.
The report states that: “Acute and sublethal effects of pesticides on honey bees have been increasingly documented, and are a primary concern.” Yet it places greater emphasis on the combination of a variety of factors, including parasitic mites, viruses, bacteria, nutrition and breeding.
Rather than calling for action now to reduce the impact of the pesticides on bee health, the report recommends further study, including on “the effects of pervasive exposure to multiple pesticides on bee health and productivity of whole honey bee colonies.”
As a next step, the Steering Committee plans to revise the CCD Action Plan, to synthesize the input from the Conference and outline major priorities for the next 5-10 years.
During this time, the pesticides can continue to be used.
As Bryan Walsh concluded in Time.com’s Ecocentric blog: “So what we may get in Europe and the U.S. is a de facto field test of the real impact of neonicotinoids… In two years, if American bees are still dying and their European cousins are thriving, we might just have our answers.”