Blessings to the coalition of beekeepers, farmers, business leaders, environmental, and food safety advocates who rallied in the front of the White House in the bloody cold in an effort to save the bees. In addition to their presence, they also delivered more than four million petition signatures, calling on the Obama administration to put forth strong protections for bees and other pollinators. It’s long overdue!
This action anticipates the Pollinator Health Task Force recommendations, expected later in March (hopefully). The task force, announced by the White House this past June, is responsible for improving pollinator health through new agency regulations and partnerships. What that will look like, remains to be seen.
The worker bees who assembled today “demand” that the recommendations include decisive action on rampant use of neonicotinoids, a class of systemic insecticides scientists say are a driving factor in bee declines. My movie Vanishing of the Bees linked systemic pesticides to Colony Collapse Disorder back in 2009.
The rally to save the bees coincided with both a D.C. metro ad campaign and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and John Conyers’s (D-MI) reintroduction of the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would suspend the use of four of the most toxic neonicotinoids until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts a full review of their safety.
The EPA does not typically conduct independent research but rather relies on the chemical companies to provide proof that there products are safe. If this sounds ass backwards. It’s because it is. We also do not operate under The Precautionary Principle, which means that this stuff is put out there without prudent risk assessment measures on humans.
“Pollinators are not only vital to a sustainable environment, but key to a stable food supply,” says Representative Blumenauer. “In fact, one out of every three bites of food we eat is from a crop pollinated by bees. It is imperative that we take a step back to make sure we understand all the factors involved in bee population decline and move swiftly to protect our pollinators.”
Sadly the EPA plans to wait until 2018 before reviewing the registration of neonicotinoids. But bees cannot wait three more years and neither can the thousands of farmers that rely on pollinators. It’s preposterous to continue to use these poisons when we know they are now contaminating rivers, effecting developing brains, and harming other pollinators as well.
“America’s beekeepers cannot easily survive in the toxic environment the EPA has supported,” says Roger Williams, president of the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, and a speaker at today’s rally. “On top of many other stresses, bee-toxic pesticides, whether used to coat seeds or as sprays, are weakening and killing our bees and threatening the livelihood of the beekeepers who are so intimately tied to our nation’s food supply.”
Save the Bees One Sister At A Time
In a letter on Monday, more than 125 conservation, beekeeping, food safety, religious, ethnic and farming advocacy groups urged President Obama and the EPA to take swift and meaningful action to address the impacts of toxic pesticides on pollinator species. The European Union passed a two-year moratorium on three of the most widely used neonicotinoids, yet the EPA has approached the issue with little urgency.
While advocates remain hopeful, they also made it clear that voluntary, enforceable proposals from the task force are unacceptable. Federal agencies have hinted at continued efforts to promote more of the same — voluntary farming management practices, insignificant pesticide label changes, and weak state pollinator plans. And advocates contend that without new, meaningful protections, the Task Force may actually do more harm than good.
“Given the historic decline in the population of pollinators — bees, butterflies and birds — it is critical that the President and White House Task Force show forceful leadership in addressing all factors contributing to the crisis, with the suspension of neonicotinoid insecticides being a critically necessary action,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.
Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species and are considered a major factor in overall population declines. A growing body of independent science links a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids to bee declines, both alone and in combination with other factors like disease and malnutrition. Neonics are 5,000 to 10,000 more toxic than DDT.
Twenty-nine independent scientists conducted a global review of 1,121 independent studies and found overwhelming evidence of pesticides linked to bee declines. Neonicotinoids are also slow to break down, causing them to build up in the environment and endangering a whole range of beneficial species that inhabit these ecosystems.
The four million signatures to save the bees were collected by Avaaz, Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, CREDO, Earthjustice, Environment America, Food and Water Watch, Food Democracy Now!, Friends of the Earth U.S., Green America, MoveOn, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network, Save Our Environment, TakePart, and Toxic Free North Carolina.
Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.
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