USDA, EPA release new report on honeybee health

Published on: May 2, 2013

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency released May 2 a comprehensive scientific report on honeybee health. The report states that there are multiple factors playing a role in honeybee colony declines, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.

"There is an important link between the health of American agriculture and the health of our honeybees for our country's long term agricultural productivity," Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said. "The forces impacting honeybee health are complex, and USDA, our research partners and key stakeholders will be engaged in addressing this challenge."

"The decline in honeybee health is a complex problem caused by a combination of stressors, and at EPA, we are committed to continuing our work with USDA, researchers, beekeepers, growers and the public to address this challenge," acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe added. "The report we've released today is the product of unprecedented collaboration, and our work in concert must continue. As the report makes clear, we've made significant progress, but there is still much work to be done to protect the honey bee population."

In October 2012, a National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health, led by federal researchers and managers, along with Pennsylvania State University, was convened to synthesize the current state of knowledge regarding the primary factors that scientists believe have the greatest impact on managed bee health.

Key findings of the report include:

* The parasitic varroa mite is recognized as the major factor underlying colony loss in the U.S. and other countries. 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 of these have been associated with colony collapse disorder (CCD).

* U.S. honeybee colonies need increased genetic diversity. Genetic variation improves bees thermoregulation (the ability to keep body temperature steady even if the surrounding environment is different), disease resistance and worker productivity.

* Honeybee breeding should emphasize traits such as hygienic behavior that confer improved resistance to varroa mites and diseases (such as American foulbrood).

* Nutrition has a major effect 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.

* Federal and state partners should 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.

An estimated one-third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination, mainly by honeybees. In the U.S., pollination contributes to crop production worth $20 billion to $30 billion in agricultural production annually.

The report, which represents the consensus of the scientific community studying honeybees, is available at http://www.usda.gov/documents/ReportHoneyBeeHealth.pdf.