By Maryam HeneinHoneyColony

Back in May, Pesticide Action Network and a dozen farming, beekeeping, food, and environmental organizations sent a letter to the White House, urging action to help save the bees. Citing how we must all work to save the bees and acknowledging their essential role in pollination services, honey production, and the agricultural economy, President Obama issued a memorandum this week, announcing the creation of a federal strategy to promote the health of all pollinators.
save the bees
It’s about time Congress stepped up to help save the bees, but has the White House grasped the magnitude of a world without bee pollination? Eventually the food supply, and our entire ecosystem, would collapse.

Pollinators contribute substantially to the economy and are vital to keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets. Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value each year to the U.S. economy by helping to produce agricultural crops.
save the bees
Coming at the tail end of Pollinator Week, this announcement heralds the creation of an inter-agency Pollinator Health Task Force to address challenges contributing to declining pollinator populations. In particular, it calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to assess the impacts of bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides within 180 days. In addition to a task force, they will also focus on “increasing and improving pollinator habitat(s).”

“We applaud President Obama for elevating the issue of pollinator health and making it a national priority,” said Paul Towers, spokesperson for PAN. “We remain cautiously optimistic that the new task force and strategic focus will bring about the protections that bees and other pollinators need, supporting beekeepers, rural communities, and the entire food system. Greater support for pollinator forage, and a commitment to expediently solving dramatic bee declines, is essential.”
save the bees
Towers added, “The proposed task force has its work cut out for it and should move quickly to address the issue of pesticides, a key factor in bee declines. The weight of scientific evidence points to the need for greater action to restrict bee-harming pesticides and fix the broken regulatory system that allows these pesticides to be brought to — and remain on — the market.”

However, the White House press release reads, “Scientists believe that bee losses are likely caused by a combination of stressors, including poor bee nutrition, loss of forage lands, parasites, pathogens, lack of genetic diversity, and exposure to pesticides.”

“I’d like to be optimistic about Obama’s press release, but my experience tells me that this is just more smoke and mirrors, insincere political posturing to capitalize on the public’s growing concern without doing anything of substance,” said beekeeper and activist Tom Theobald.
save the bees
In his opinion, we don’t need any more task forces, investigations, or research. We just simply need to get rid of the poisons. It’s these poisons that compromise bees’ immune systems, allowing them to fall prey to pathogens they could otherwise fight. So why are pesticides last on the list?

“The neonicotinoids may be producing the most massive environmental poisoning in history,” Theobald said. “What we need is some backbone to face the reality of this environmental crisis; we need to stop covering for incompetents and criminals.”

Will the New White House Initiative Really Save the Bees?

Upon scrutiny, Theobald says, there’s little substance to the proposal. For example, the Obama press release says $8 million will go toward cultivating new habitats for honeybees. But what does that really mean?

Theobald asked his farmer friend how much it would cost to plant clover or alfalfa for the bees. Results ranged from $200 to $400 dollars per acre. Eight million divided by 200 is 40,000 acres. At first glance, this is seemingly a large figure with plenty of real estate. However, if you divide 40,000 into the 242 million acres of agricultural land that has been repeatedly planted by seed-treated crops, it equates to one acre for every 10 square miles.
save the bees
The program, meanwhile, is aimed at five Midwestern states with some of the highest usage of systemic pesticides. Theobald says the likelihood is that these soils have already been massively poisoned.

Think about it, only 2 to 5 percent of pesticides actually go into the plants; the rest goes into the soil and the groundwater, only to accumulate poisons with successive usage. These systemics also have a shelf life of years, if not decades. Pesticides euthanize soil organisms, migrating with groundwater only to be drawn up in toxic amounts by non-target plants, thus poisoning any nectar or pollen-feeding insects.

behaviour of foraging bee infographic

“Neither the USDA nor the EPA have shown the slightest inclination to answering the basic questions of soil and groundwater contamination to establish some baseline data,” said Theobald. “The USDA habitat program—as paltry as it is—is most likely to produce killing fields, not refuges and habitat.”

Critics also add that it’s the USDA and EPA that are the real problems. Consider, for instance, that the systemic pesticide clothianidin has never met the requirements for legal registration and yet has been on the market, poisoning millions of acres, for 11 growing seasons.
save the bees
“This is just more of what we have gotten for a decade: Excuses, evasions, and ignored violations of the law,” added Theobald. “It is just more rhetoric in place of substance. If Obama really wanted to stem the losses he could start by investigating and prosecuting the criminals who have enabled this.”

Watch Tom Theobald’s interview with Dan Rather here:

Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.

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