In response to an unprecedented decline in bee populations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released new pesticide labels that forbid the use of some neonicotinoid pesticide products where bees are present.
The EPA says the new labels will have a bee advisory box and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions, which will affect products containing neonicotinoids. The agency will also work with pesticide manufacturers to change labels so that they will meet the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) safety standard.
According to TIME, neonicotinoid pesticides are “used on more than 140 different crops as well as in home gardens, meaning endless chances of exposure for any insect that alights on the treated plants.” While U.S. farmers have been using pesticides for decades, neonicotinoids differ in that they are not sprayed over a planted field but soaked into seeds before planting. Vestiges of the chemicals are ultimately passed on to every part of the adult plant, which includes the pollen and nectar a bee might come into contact with. These chemicals also often remain much longer than traditional pesticides do.
Suspiciously, a decade after neonicotinoids were introduced in the mid-1990s, beehives across the country began being afflicted by colony-collapse disorder (CCD), a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive abruptly disappear. Since 2006, honeybees have been dying in droves. Last winter, a third of U.S. honeybee colonies died or disappeared, TIME reports.
Why should we care about a bunch of dead bees?
Believe it or not, honeybees are responsible for pollinating nearly a third of the food we consume and contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. agricultural system each year. For example, almonds — at $4 billion, California’s most valuable agricultural export — is completely dependent on honeybees.
To demonstrate the importance of honeybees, a Whole Foods store in Rhode Island recently removed from its produce section all the bee-dependent food, which amounted to 237 out of 453 items such as apples, zucchini, lemons and squashes.
While neonicotinoids are the leading culprits in the bee deaths, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA report released in May claims the honeybee declines can also be attributed to habitat loss, parasites and disease, genetics and poor nutrition.
“Multiple factors play a role in bee colony declines, including pesticides,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “The Environmental Protection Agency is taking action to protect bees from pesticide exposure and these label changes will further our efforts.”
Whatever the plight may be, something needs to be done to reverse this downward trend in honeybee populations. Though beekeepers are fighting to replace dead hives over time, the heavy losses continue to put increased pressure on the U.S. agriculture industry.
Just as Albert Einstein allegedly said: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!