White House Promotes Honey Bee Health – DTN

    The Obama administration is suddenly abuzz over bees and butterflies.

    The White House announced Friday the Obama administration is creating a federal task force to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators. The task force will look at the various issues causing a decline in bee population as well as ways to help expand the habitat for bees and other pollinators such as butterflies.

    USDA and EPA will lead a task force that will include representatives from at least 15 other federal agencies and foundations to examine the problems that have plagued bees and other pollinators in recent years.

    The presidential memorandum comes as part of national pollinator week, an event that began in 2007 specifically to highlight the role pollinators play in the food supply and overall plant life.

    The White House noted that pollinators are vital to fruit, vegetable and nut production and add $15 billion to the value of agricultural crops every year in the U.S. Bees are needed to grow at least 90 commercial crops grown in North America.

    However, commercial bee keepers have seen an average of 30% losses in their hives each winter going back to 2006. These historically high losses, called Colony Collapse Disorder, are affecting a wide range of agricultural crops, the White House noted.

    The task force will develop a national pollinator health strategy and action plan to stem the loss of pollinators and rebuild the populations of such insects. USDA and the Department of Interior will unveil more plans for best practices on federal lands within the next 90 days. Those would likely include figuring out ways to grow more pollinator-friendly plants and develop habitat for honey bees, for instance. Such efforts would likely lead to growing more forage for pollinators on federal lands or along road right-of-ways.

    The pollinator initiative will be woven into USDA conservation programs as well. The White House memorandum cited the potential of increasing forage and pollinator habitat on lands such as those in the Conservation Reserve Program. USDA announced an $8 million initiative to do just that. The department also will work with land-grant extension services and other agencies to expand native crop mixes that help pollinators.

    The task force will examine best practices to reduce pollinator exposure to pesticides. EPA will examine the effects of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on pollinators and report back within six months on the findings. Neonicotinoids are directly applied to some plants and used as a seed treatment on crops such as corn. The neonicotinoid class of insecticides is considered less toxic in general than other types of insecticides, though they can be toxic to pollinators.

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    The role neonicotinoids play in the decline of the bee population has been hotly debated both in the U.S. and Europe, which effectively banned such pesticides last year. Some groups in the U.S. are calling for a similar ban but major agrichemical companies argue there is no definitive proof neonicotinoids are to blame for widespread collapses of bee colonies.

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