Dealing with bee die-off should be a priority

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Can we all agree bees play critical ecological and agricultural roles in this world of ours?


If we do, then wouldn’t one think there would be widespread alarm and an immediate jump to action to tackle the major die-off that is depleting these crucial pollinators in large numbers?


In Washington, D.C., the answer is: not so much.


Let’s backtrack a bit. It was in 2006 that reports started to filter in about major bee die-offs, a phenomenon that also came to be known by the term “colony collapse disorder.” Before too long, scientists were following the theory that pesticides, especially a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, might be to blame, and ensuing studies continued to add credence to that belief, to the point the European Union has banned their use, at least temporarily.


In the United States, the response of our government has basically resembled Nero fiddling while Rome burned.


There have been two developments in the past week that, we hope, will push the issue closer to the forefront in Washington.


The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, which advises the species-loss watchdog International Union for Conservation of Nature, released the results of a major, four-year scientific review on the effects of neurotoxic pesticides. It found there was “clear evidence of harm” from the substances, not only involving the massive die-off of bees, but also on butterflies, worms, fish and birds.


“We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environments,” said report co-author Jean-Marc Bonmatin of the National Centre for Scientific Research in France. In other words, a threat to the world’s food supply.


In our nation’s capital, meanwhile, the Obama administration, seemingly aware of the issue for the first time, has formed a task force that is to come back within 180 days with a strategy to address the demise of honeybees, butterflies and other pollinators. As part of the effort, the Environmental Protection Agency, which has thus far chosen to sit on its hands, has been directed to look into the role played by neonicotinoids.


While it’s a welcome step, some say it’s not nearly enough.


“(President Obama) could restrict neonicotinoids today, as the European Union has done, and he should do that if he wants to protect our pollinators, our food systems and our environment,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes of Friends of the Earth US.


The Centre for Food Safety chimed in, “There is already a wealth of peer-reviewed literature demonstrating the harms of pesticides to bees and other pollinators.”


We’re willing to give the president’s task force a chance to do its work, but we have our concerns that even if the group were to return with evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that neonicotinoids are responsible for the death and destruction detailed in previous studies, it would be shunted aside in Congress, where many of our lawmakers have shown that their interest in what’s good for major corporations, which spend millions upon millions on lobbying, often outweighs their interest in the public good.


Exhibit A is climate change. Nearly all reputable climate scientists believe climate change is not only real, but almost certainly influenced by human activities. Members of Congress, mainly Republicans but some Democratic science-denying fellow travelers from fossil fuel-producing states (think Pennsylvania, Texas and others), have shown they are more than willing to look the other way while temperatures and seas rise.


They remind us of the monkeys with their hands over their eyes, ears and mouths.


We, and the bees, deserve better.


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